Rick Barthelme’s “Tracer”

Down and out hubbie goes to Ft. Myers on Florida’s west coast, or more specifically to some sort of undeveloped and run-down cracker Gulfcoastal area. There are shitty motels and a pastoral beach where the wind is wild and cows can show up. The community has a few strange souls with dangerous idiosyncrasies: deranged Viet Vet, pancake fetishist, man named Minnie. Dueling divorcee’s can drive cars fast and do stunt tricks on the highway with immunity. The convenience store sells fried chicken breasts plopped on a slice of white bread. We are not sure why the hubbie narrator went there. The divorcing wife shows up for some reason. Hubbie meanwhile is tagging her sister, who runs the Seaside motel and is a lusty well-travelled gal. The kinky sex acts we imagine that transpire are left ambiguous, a nice writing touch and maybe a relief too. Three bottles of wine will of course produce a menage á trois. A wrecked airplane in the woods has been converted into a private retreat with all the trimmings of an efficiency. Characters wander from the shitty motel and go to there like an off-stage waiting area. Rain falls and pings against the fuselage. We think at first the town of Obalisque up the road will be like luxury land, but it’s a dump too. The best of this stuff is pure postmodern imagination, not dissimilar to late brother Donald’s. With an accompanying succinct prose style and a bagful of adept descriptions and imagery, Barthelme produced a terrific book. It’s my favorite of all his stuff.

ps-  A subtitle of this novella could be “Or This is Americana, Sad to Say.”

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