Monday, January 10, 2011

Reader's Diary #678- Donald Barthelme: City of Churches

A while ago, as a Short Story Monday review, JoAnn looked at Donald Barthelme's "City of Churches." Last week, Teddy Rose had a go at it. Both made it sound sufficiently interesting and so I too broke down and read it.

Yes conformity. It's what keeps us us. It's also what built the City of Churches, a town in which every building is a church. People live in churches. The barbershop is in a church, the Board of Education is in a church, and newcomer Cecelia will soon learn that her car rental establishment is also to be in a church. Except Cecelia is not sure she's ready for this place...

Though it would have been the obvious approach to take this story as a commentary on organized religion, I found myself actually thinking more about consumer culture. We wear advertisements on our clothing, we dress alike, we're all told what to eat, what to drive, what books to read, and what music to listen to. In Barthelme's story you might be a Lutheran or a Baptist. Coke or Pepsi?

I liked Barthelme's story for inspiring this unexpected train of thought, but I wasn't crazy about the ending. The story is mostly the slow revealing about the creepy eccentricities of the City of Churches, but near the end Cecelia's character begins to show some development, threatening to overshadow the city itself. Then it ends abruptly. Cecelia needs a novel.


Anonymous said...

I like your take on it! I haven't read it, but will at some stage.
I don't know what you'll think of my take on "Humanesque". I'm still scratching my head and this review might be a bit ... disconnected!

JoAnn said...

One of the most interesting things about short stories is following the thoughts they provoke. This one was just creepy for me, but I agree with your thinking that Cecelia needs a novel. I'd read it!

I read one of Edith Wharton's ghost stories this week:

John Mutford said...

Emeire: I'm curious to hear what you think!

JoAnn: Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Teddy Rose said...

Glad you enjoyed it John. I would have liked a different ending as well.

I reviewed The Babysitter's Code by Laura Lippman-