donald barthelme's new book of stories, great days, is perhaps most notable for the presence of seven formally related dialogues, the crisis, the apology, the new music, morning, on the steps of the conservatory, the leap, and great days, which introduce a new aspect of his work. in these restless, possibility-haunted colloquies, stripped of everything save voices, changing pairs of women and pairs of men range an emotional terrain whose poles are hope and memory. extravagant, profane, and comic, the dialogues are a considerable achievement, testing the possibilities of form and extending our engagement with the world.
in other stories barthelme explores the tragic, ambiguous relationship between cortés and montezuma, uncovers units of the swedish army on maneuvers in manhattan, offers a country-music version of mozart's abduction from the seraglio, describes a heroic cutting contest between a king of jazz and a young challenger, and provides an account of a group of zombies out on a wife-buying expedition.
as philip stevick wrote in the nation, donald barthelme's stories stand as touchstones for narrative art of the last two decades. great days is an important addition to an already impressive body of work.