We don't know many people who've read the whole of Donald Barthelme's 1967 post-modernist take on Snow White. For those who have it certainly leaves it's mark. Even after having read hundreds (no exaggeration) of short story and novel retellings the fairy tale, or an aspect of it, Snow White has never been quite the same since closing the cover on Barthelme's novel.
It's not your typical retelling, that is certain. Don't expect magical circumstances and wonder here, but it is landmarked for good reason, despite often disturbing the reader. While experimental, it's one of the first inversions written of Snow White, changing people's perspective on the tale in a way that hadn't been done before.
If you're not familiar with the novel, you can get an idea from the back cover of one of the original publishings, (see at right), and if you're curious to learn more about it before delving into the novel yourself, I recommend this short commentary on Barthelme's Snow White and the post-modernist movement HERE. Here's a taste of the short essay:
"...resistant to anything as bourgeois as a narrative structure, is composed of dozens of brief vignettes designed to force the reader to engage the text as a text. Thus, becomes not simply a retelling of the classic fairy tale, it also serves as a commentary on the fairy tale and its structuralist elements. "premiered by Catastrophic Theatre during their 2016-17 season. It's unfortunate that Barthelme, who passed away in 1989, never got to see his vision performed.
Here's the description of the play (which, it should be noted, will have variations from the novel):
Donald Barthelme's is tired of being "just a horsewife" to Bill, Dan, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem and Kevin, who, in her estimation 'only add up to the equivalent of about two real men.' While they tend to their commercial real estate properties and manufacture exotic high-end baby foods, she spends her days reading Mao Tse Tung, drinking vodka with and impatiently waiting for the prince promised to her by history. But her imagination is stirring...And from MATCH (where you can get a list of performance dates and times), there's some nice background we think is worth including:
|Book cover from the OUABlog library|
When Barthelme’s novel was published in 1966, critical response was a mixture of enthusiasm, admiration and puzzlement. Writing in magazine, Webster Schott called Barthelme "the most perversely gifted writer in the United States. . . . has everything, including William Burroughs cut ups, words posing as paintings, ribald social commentary, crazy esthetic experiments, and comedy that smashes.” Jack Kroll, in , called Barthelme a “splendid writer who knows how to turn spiritual dilemmas into logic, and how to turn that logic into comedy which is the true wised-up story of our time.” Beyond its formal radicalism and experimental language, the book is a funny-sad meditation on the promises and disappointments of love, a topographical map of what one critic called “the cratered landscape of the broken heart.”
Barthelme adapted his novel for the stage in 1974 and it has only seen the light of day once, in a very small, invite-only reading at The Alley Theatre. It has never been fully produced. Working from Barthelme's original manuscript, notes and revisions, Catastrophic Theatre will present the world premiere of the author's own stage adaptation of . In conjunction with Brazos Books and Inprint, a public reading of the play will be given at Brazos Books on November 9, 2016.Barthelme's Snow White will play at the the MATCH in Midtown, Houston (TX), from April 7th to 29th, 2017.