Paradise (novel)

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Paradise (1986) is a novel by Donald Barthelme.


  • After the women had gone Simon began dreaming with new intensity. He dreamed that he was a slave on a leper island, required to clean the latrines and pile up dirty-white shell for the roads, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrowful, then rake the shell smooth and jump uo and down on it until it was packed solid. The lepers did not allow him to wear shoes, only white athletic socks, and he had a difficult time finding a pair that matched. The head leper, a man who seemed to be named Al, embraced him repeatedly and tried repeatedly to spit in his mouth. He dreamed that wife, Carol, had driven a large bus, a Metro bus filled with people, into the front of his building. It was not her fault, she told him, a Japanese man who had not had correct change when he got on the bus, in fact had asked her to change a fify-dollar bill and had, moreover, insisted that she stuff nine fives into little envelopes printed with colorful out-of-register scenes from the Bible for his First Presbyterian contributions over the next nine Sundays, was the true culprit. Simon woke early, five o’clock and six o’clock, cracked new bottles of white wine and smoked tasteless Marlboro Light 100s and wondered what to do next.
    He put all the extra beds in one room, the room Anne had had toward the front of the house. Stacked on top of one another they looked like a means test for a princess. He bought a new plant, a gold-flecked acuba, and a pot for it at Conran’s, a glazed off-white ceramic number. He cleaned the refrigerator, throwing out seven half-full containers of Dannon Strawberry and Dannon Blueberry as well as four daikon in various stages of reduction. They did love salads. He added the remains of an osso buco, capers and red wine, to his dark roiling sauce base. He found a red wrinkled bra hanging like a cut throat over the shower rail and not knowing what else to do with it, threw that out too. He shifted four thousand dollars from sticks into his Keogh account to help upholster his enfeebled retirement years. He called his wife in Philadelphia but got no answer—still, he’d called. He trimmed his toenails, the monstrous left and the even more frightening right big toes knocked back into civility. He inspected his prick and said, “My you’re looking fresh and pretty this morning.”
    • opening, pp. 9–10
  • “Anyone who sees Parsifal twice is a blithering idiot.”
    “You mean the movie.”
    “In any form. Land, sea, or in the air.”
    “Well I won’t take you. You have my word.”
    • p. 22
  • “When I got married,” she says, “I married this guy who was a Catholic. So we had to get a priest to do the job. So I called this priest and explained the situation. I said I was not a Catholic. And the priest says, ‘Well, we can work with you on that.’ Then I told him I was still married to another guy, the guy I was married to before I met this guy. And the priest says, ‘Well, we can work with you on that.’ So I just thought I’d tell him that I was born without a vagina, that I just had this sort of marble insert where the vagina was supposed to be, to see if he would say, ‘Well, we can work with you on that.’ ”
    • p. 40
  • Something to be said for being fifty-three, you could enjoy the turning of the wheel. He feels every additional day a great boon. He doesn’t understand people who have futures, palpable futures. He takes an interest in the obituary pages of the newspapers, the summations, tidy packages, So-and-so gets three inches whereas Tra-la-la gets seven. He has a pain where his liver is presumed to be and is vomiting rather too much. He’s paid $35,107 in Federal taxes for the last year and has before him a request from the IRS for an additional $41.09. These people are wonderful, he thinks, they want the last forty-one bucks and nine cents. You’d think with the thirty-five thou they’d say let’s have a beer and forget about it.
    • p. 42
  • “What are you going to do after we leave?” she asks.
    “Go back to work, I guess.”
    “That what you want to do?”
    “Work is God’s best invention. Keeps you all seized up and interested.”
    “I wish I could do something.”
    “You could always go to school.”
    “I don’t like standing in lines.”
    “I know what you mean. The Army used up most of my standing-in-line capacity.”
    “But suppose you’re at a reception and you’re going to meet the President and there’s a long line of very well-dressed people—”
    “I’m not in a hurry to meet the President. If he wants to come over and have a drink and a little guacamole dip, that’s fine. My door is always open.”
    • p. 56
  • Getting old, Simon. Not so limber, dear friend, time for the bone factory? The little blue van. Your hands are covered with tiny pepperoni. Your knees predict your face. Your back stabs you, on the left side, twice a day. The belly’s been discussed. The soul’s shrinking to a microdot. We’re ordering your rocking chair, size 42. Would you like something in Southern pine? Loblolly? Send the women away. They’re too good for you. Also, not good for you. Are you King Solomon? Your kingdom a scant two hundred fifty-nine thousand, two hundred square inches. Annual tearfall, three and one-quarter inches. You feedeth among the lilies, Simon. There are garter snakes among the lilies, Simon, garter belts too. Your garden is over-cultivated, it needs weeds. How’s your skiwear, Simon? Done any demolition derbies lately? You run the mile in, what, a year and a half? We’re sending you an electric treadmill, a solid steel barbell curl bar, a digital pedometer. Use them. And send the women away.
    When he asked himself what he was doing, living in a bare elegant almost unfurnished New York apartment with three young and beautiful women, Simon had to admit that he did not know what he was doing. He was, he supposed, listening. These women were taciturn as cowboys, spoke only to the immediate question, probably did not know in which century the Second World War had taken place. No, too hard; it was, rather, that what they knew was so wildly various, ragout of Spinoza and Cyndi Lauper with a William Buckley sherbet floating in the middle of it. He’d come in one evening to find all three of them kneeling on the dining room table with their rumps pointing at him. Obviously, he was supposed to strip off his gentlemanly khakis and attend to all three at once, just as obviously an impossibility. He had placed a friendly hand on each cul in turn and said, “Okay, guys, you’ve had your fun, now get back to the barracks and polish the Renoirs.” That boy has no talent, muttered Manet to Monet one afternoon in the garden, about Renoir. “Out, out, out,” he’d shouted, and they’d scattered, giggling. One night on his back in bed he’d had six breasts to suck, swaying above him, he was poor tattered Romulus. When they couldn’t get a part of him they’d play with each other.
    • pp. 59–60
  • The walls of the architecture labs at Penn had been covered with graffiti. “This is hell, nor are we out of it.” “Hell is other architects.” “The road to hell is paved with naugahyde.”
    • p. 80; "This is hell, nor are we out of it."—Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus; "Hell is others."— Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit
  • Dore is angry. She’s holding the box that the frozen pizza came in.
    “You’re actually going to feed us this pizza?”
    “What’s the matter with it?”
    “This frozen pizza?”
    “So it’s frozen.”
    “Do you know what it’s got in it? Enriched flour.”
    “What’s the matter with enriched flour?”
    “The enriched flour has in it flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, and riboflavin.”
    “All great stuff. I remember riboflavin from my childhood. They put it in Wheaties or something.”
    “We’re just getting started. We’re just going into our windup here. We get water, hydrogenated soybean oil, yeast, salt, and something called dough conditioner. The dough conditioner’s got sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium sulfate and sodium sulfite.”
    “Soybeans are good. Invented by Martin Luther King.”
    “Moving right along, we get cooked pork and mozzarella cheese substitute. The mozzarella cheese substitute contains water, casein, hydrogenated soybean oil—you notice the soybean is doing a lot of work here—salt, sodium aluminum phosphate, lactic acid, natural flavor whatever that is, modified cornstarch, sodium citrate, sorbic acid, sodium phosphate, artificial color, guar gum, magnesium oxide, ferric orthophosphate, zinc oxide, B-12, folic acid, B-6 hydrochloride, niacinamide, vitamin A palmitate, xanthan gum, thiamine mononitrate—I ask you.”
    “Is this food or a chemistry set?”
    “Doesn’t taste too bad.”
    “I could make a nuclear weapon with less stuff than this pizza has in it.”
    • pp. 91–92
  • It’s an architectural problem, marriage. If we could live in separate houses, and visit each other when we feel particularly gay— It would be expensive, yes. But as it was she had to endure me in all my worst manifestations, early in the morning and late at night and in the nutsy obsessed noontimes. When I wake up from my nap you don’t get the laughing cavalier, you get a rank pigfooted belching blunderer. I knew this one guy who built a wall down the middle of his apartment. An impenetrable wall. He had a very big apartment. Concrete block, basically, with a fiberglass insulation on top of that and sheetrock on top of that.
    • pp. 97–98
  • Carol, when they were twenty-five and twenty-six, had been a smart-ass, an admirable smart-ass. “I love you but it’s only temporary,” she had said. She was fond of saying to people, “Here’s wishing you a happy and successful first marriage.”
    • p. 109
  • “I once heard [Buckminster] Fuller speak for seven straight hours. I only understood a tenth of what he was saying. By the end of the evening there were only five people left in the audience. He’d started with three hundred. I went home and began to make tetrahedrons with Play-Doh and toothpicks at two o’clock in the morning. ...”
    • p. 117
  • Q: When I was first married, when I was twenty, I didn’t know where the clitoris was. I didn’t know there was such a thing. Shouldn’t somebody have told me?
    A: Perhaps your wife?
    Q: Of course she was too shy. In those days people didn’t go around saying, This is the clitoris and this is what its proper function is and this is what you can do to help out. I finally found it. In a book.
    A: German?
    Q: Dutch.
    • p. 129
  • He lost nine pounds (a great blessing) during the eight months they lived in the apartment. They had not been slow to criticize his toes, teeth, belly, hair, or politics. “It seems to me,” Veronica had said one day, “that you have no social responsibility.” “My first social responsibilty,” he had said, “is that the building doesn’t collapse.” “Right right right,” she said, “but you are after all a creature of the power structure. You work for the power structure.” This was true enough, revolutionaries don’t build buildings, needed only closets to oil their Uzis in, no work for architects there. On the other hand Veronica and the others derived their own politics from a K-Mart of sources, Thomas Aquinas marching shoulder-to-shoulder with Simone de Beauvoir and the weatherbeaten troops of Sixty Minutes. They were often left and right during the same conversation, sometimes the same sentence.
    • pp. 132–133