Another delightful story from the New Yorker Fiction podcast is “I Bought A Little City,” by Donald Barthelme. Donald Antrim has just the right accent for a story about a man who buys Galveston, Texas. As the narrator strolls about, enjoying his new purchase, he thinks,
What a nice little city! It suits me fine.
It suited me fine, so I started to change it, but softly, softly.
Which of course leads to uprooting people and turning their lives upside down. When the narrator asks one of the displaced for ideas about where to put them, the man suggests an utterly insane renewal project. Sounds good. But the narrator has a few questions.
“Fine,” I said. “Where are the folk going to park their cars?”
“In the vast underground parking facility,” he said.
Since he has absolute power, he proceeds to abuse it in the self-serving manner of all tyrants who are changing everything for the “better.” But he manages to draw the line and stop himself. Toward the end, he reflects,
Can’t help people. Can hurt ’em, though…Best to leave them alone? Who decides?
From beginning to end, it’s a funny story about why it’s wrong to play god. It reminds me of the Futurama episode “Godfellas” where the amoral robot Bender also gets to play god. It takes godlike restraint to get it right.
3 thoughts on “Re: I Bought A Little City”
Barthelme has been one of my favorite writers since I first encountered “The Baby” (http://www.eskimo.com/~jessamyn/barth/baby.html) some years ago. He’s on my list of great short-short storyists (with Robert Olen Butler and T.C. Boyle, before he got too pretentious), and predates most of them. It’s interesting to see this one turn up from the archives (1974!).
Yeah, this one made me want to find more Barthelme. Eventually I’ll get around to checking out his collection, Sixty Stories.
Thank you for the link to “The Baby.”
“60 Stories” had been hard to find for awhile, but I see there was a new edition a few years back. I should get a copy. I have “40 Stories” on the shelf. Maybe I can loan it to you at some point. Don’t be afraid to ask.
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