This book has been sitting on my shelf for a couple years now, and I’m so glad I finally decided to read it — particularly now that I’m going through a Don DeLillo phase, and Frederick Barthelme’s style is so similar.
The story centers on Wallace Webster, a retired commercial artist living in a condo development in suburban Texas. We learn about Wallace’s past: like many Americans, he settled for a job he wasn’t crazy about, divorced his wife after their marriage gradually became less satisfying, and is now left reflecting on his life. Was settling for something less than what he aspired to is a sign of cowardice or good sense?
As Wallace comes to terms with his aging and his impending mortality, the people in his condo development are at the same time mysteriously dying or falling victim to curious crimes.
There Must Be Some Mistake is grounded in an ordinary, mundane world, but it’s a world where things don’t always (or ever) make sense. In a recent interview, Barthelme explained that he’s not interested in “realism” as how it’s defined in the traditional literary sense because it “doesn’t correspond to [his] experience of life on this planet.”
This sentiment is certainly reflected in There Must Be Some Mistake: Wallace’s world is at odd and detached, but at the same time eerily familiar.
Barthelme’s style isn’t for everyone, but fans of DeLillo will likely appreciate his dialogue, humor and commentary on modern life.