The Great Hug by Donald Barthelme, 1976
The magic trick:
Using a checklist format to tell the story of exhausting responsibilities and pressures
Back-to-back balloon stories here. There’s a lot to chew on here, as always with Barthelme. Personally, I wasn’t terribly interested in chewing on much of it. Just not my favorite of his stories. But the image of the balloon man rolling down the hill with the pin lady is a good one.
And that’s quite a trick on Barthelme’s part.
At the last breakfast after I told her, we had steak and eggs. Bloody Marys. Three pieces of toast. She couldn’t cry, she tried. Balloon Man came. He photographed the event. He created the Balloon of the Last Breakfast. After I Told Her – a butter-colored balloon. “This is the kind of thing I do so well,” he said. Balloon Man is not modest. No one has ever suggested that. “This balloon is going to be extra-famous and acceptable, a documentation of raw human riches, the plain canvas flag of the thing. The Pin Lady will never be able to bust this balloon, never, not even if she hugs me for a hundred years.” We were happy to have pleased him, to have contributed to his career.
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