‘There Must be Some Mistake’ by Frederick Barthelme (2014) – 294 pages Grade: A-
Kicked out of his job as a design consultant, Wallace Webster, our trusty narrator in the new Frederick Barthelme novel ‘There Must be Some Mistake’, is in his early fifties, recently divorced, and living in a condominium on Forgetful Bay in south Texas He stays up all night doing Google searches, watching reality TV shows, and eating saltines.
“I was already a fan of junk culture. every excess, every heartbreakingly bad idea some fool came up with, every pathetic effort we made to clean up our act and our lives, every crummy joke, every dumb gesture, every pretense to profound thought, deep spirituality, or going the other way, low self-loathing. We were blockheads and ninnies, and I liked that about us, even the grand and miraculous, who knew not this rarefied enlightenment “
As I kept reading ‘There Must be Some Mistake’, I learned to like and trust Wallace’s deadpan view of life in his tacky corner of the world. Here is his view of young people today:
“It struck me as odd that Rice (University) students would look like gas station attendants but then I realized everyone under thirty looked like a gas-station attendant to me. Then I realized there weren’t any gas-station attendants anymore.”
Of course our restaurant franchise chains come in for their share of abuse. Here is Wallace on dining at Olive Garden:
“Our food arrived in due course. Mine was execrable, in the best possible way as usual. Thick, gloppy, greasy, misshapen, lukewarm, and inedible. We dined in silence, unless slurps and other sucking noises are to be counted.”
Then there’s the guy who arrives at the condo in cowboy regalia. “He was cowboyed up.”
Strange things are happening in Wallace Webster’s condo. One of his fellow condo-dwellers dies in a mysterious car accident, and then there is a possible suicide, and also what appears to be a murder. Then Wallace must deal with woman detective Jean Darling. Wallace already has a lot of women in his life with Jilly who was his friend from work, Diane who is his ex-wife, Morgan who is his daughter, and Chantal who is the wild woman from another condo with whom he is having an affair and who previously shot a couple of husbands.
But ‘There Must be Some Mistake’ is by no means a detective novel as that line is dropped anyway by the end. What makes this novel fun and different is Wallace’s reliable and humorous take on our modern lives, because what Frederick Barthelme is saying does not only apply to Texas and Texans.