The story takes place in a small isolated city named Prester. Phillips showing the town around to a woman named Cecelia, who is interested in starting a car rental business in the city. As the two turned the corner a plethora of churces became visible. In fact, the entire city was comprised of churches. Everyone lived in the church they attended, which clearly had Cecelia shocked.
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Maybe a little fundamental? Attitude is probably more important than strictly when. Well, duh. Armed with this knowledge, I bust out my trusty if not always fully documented, admittedly not totally scholarly source Wikipedia , which takes me right into the thick of it.
Imagine that. Why not? Still, the association is instructive. Barthelme, whose writing focused very much on contemporary culture, no doubt appreciated the irony. He worked as a newspaper reporter in Houston, and taught at several universities in the east including CCNY. He is generally regarded as one of our fine 20th Century American short story writers. He is a co-founder of Fiction Magazine and winner of numerous awards and accolades for writing.
Then, there was the gibbet. In The Balloon, the writer inflates a very large balloon covering 45 square blocks of Manhattan and controls its grip on the psyche of the city. A City of Churches : You have to love a story that lures you in with a perfectly straightforward voice and sets you down right into the middle of an absurdity, leaving you on your own to figure a way out. The absurdity is Prester, a city of churches.
Cecelia, the deceptively acquiescent young woman who is the focus of the story, is indeed a heroine in the very best sense of the word. It is her presence that takes the story beyond the ordinary. She nods appreciatively when Mr. Not hardly. She will be expected to live in the church of her choice and to work in a car rental business that is adjunct to another church.
Everything in Prester, she learns, every business, every club, every establishment, is affiliated in some way with a church. Everything in Prester is about conformity and their desperate need for her to conform. Of the characters encountered in these three stories, Cecilia is unique. What could the secret be in a city of churches? Phillips says, but Cecilia knows better.
“Untoward Stories: A City of Churches / Donald Barthelme” by M.E. McMullen
Phillips said, "ours is a city of churches all right. Both sides of the street were solidly lined with churches, standing shoulder to shoulder in a variety of architectural styles. The spires and steeples of the traditional buildings were jammed in next to the broad imaginative flights of the "contemporary" designs. Phillips said.
A City of Churches by Donald Barthelme
Maybe a little fundamental? Attitude is probably more important than strictly when. Well, duh. Armed with this knowledge, I bust out my trusty if not always fully documented, admittedly not totally scholarly source Wikipedia , which takes me right into the thick of it. Imagine that.
Taken from his Sadness collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Barthelme may be exploring the theme of acceptance and conformity. None of the characters in the story, with the exception of Cecelia, appear to question whether it is normal or reasonable for their lives to be so heavily associated with the churches in the town. Rather they seem to completely embrace or believe it to be not only acceptable but also right that their lives are so entwined with the churches. Something that is noticeable when the reader discovers that the barber shop in Prester is located within a church. Similarly one of the restaurants in the town is also located within a church. At no stage in the story do any of the characters again with the exception of Cecelia consider their own personal association or any of the associations that some of the businesses in the town have with the churches to be improper or non-progressive to either the individual or to commerce in general.