Wednesday 17 April 2024

On the Deck by Donald Barthelme

All aboard!

"On the Deck" might be one of Donald Barthelme's earlier stories because it feels as if he is still in the process of developing his signature postmodern style. We are presented with a brief sketch of eccentric passengers aboard a large sea vessel. Their destination? Unclear. There is a caged lion, a Christian motorcycle gang, a pretty girl wearing a sun dress and various others. There's even some guy named Mitch sitting in his Camry. I chuckled. The sea captain makes a brief appearance with a random burst of non-sequiturs: "I would have done better work if I'd had some encouragement. I've met a lot of people in my life. I let my feelings carry me along." Presumably he is speaking to another passenger or maybe it's a monologue? Again, unclear. 

We catch fleeting glimpses of these people, and the narrative transitions from one character to the next, guided by their proximity to each other while stationed on deck. The narrator shows up in the final scene, a tender moment that is strangely ambiguous. Thus, there is a random quirkiness to this story but it doesn't really add up to much. 

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