Barthclme is playing games with wordsnand ideas—as if they were pasted onnsome soa of constantly revolving roulettenwheel of artistic sensibility from which henplucks at random. Barthelme’s is an agilenkind of writing, but an empty one. Therenis little meat on these bones. Instead,nthere is a depressing flood of gobbledygooknthat almost totally obscuresnhis few gems of comic writing.nAll this would be fine, if Barthelmenwere merely running the risk of havingnhis few readable pieces ignored, as is thenbulk of his work. But then one recalls thensocial comment that mns through morenthan a few of these stories. That would benall right, too, for Six(y Stories coversntwenty years of work, and there werenplenty of writers, particularly in the 60’s,nwho stuck their political views into theirnliterary efforts, even when the resultsnwere awful. Barthelme’s version isn’tnthat bad, but it is awkward enough tonmake one wonder how he expects hisnreaders to see his other pieces. Shouldnthey, too, be considered profound andnserious? It’s easy to envision Barthelmensecretly guffawing at readers who squintnover his work like avant-garde intellec-nThe Villager’s VoicenMargaret Brenman-Gibson: CliffordnOdets, American Playwright: The Yearsnfrom 1906 to 1940; AtheneumnPublishers; New York.nby Lee CongdonnWho can forget Saul Steinberg’snwonderful impression of United Statesngeography? Having appeared originallynon the cover of The New Yorker, it representsnthe world west of the HudsonnRiver as a narrow strip of land all butnaowded from view by Manhattan. EvennDr. Congdon is a fellow at The Institutenfor Advanced Study at Princeton University.n10 inChronicles of Culturentuals staring at a canvas of spattered tomatoesnin a “modern art” museum,nholding forth on what it means.nWhat it means is not much. SixtynStories is a hen house full of raucous andndiscordant prose pieces which can hardlynbe considered stories. To titillate pompousncridcs and dodge the sentiments ofnreaders may be a good excuse for quirkynexperiments with language, but onenwouldn’t call the result literature.nBarthelme’s view of what he is doingnfilters through in a strangely straightforwardnway in “The Dolt,” a piecenabout an aspiring writer who continuallynfails the written part of the “NationalnWriters Examination”:n[Edgar] couldn’t think of anything.nThinking of anything was beyondnhim. I sympathize. I myself have thesenproblems. Endings are elusive, middlesnare nowhere to be found, butnworst of all is to begin, to begin, tonbegin.nBarthelme tries, anyway. Sixty Stories,nand more, is the result. Some of them arenentertaining. But none of them is memorable,nnnthose who live in this uncharted territorynare amused by the drawing because ofnwhat it reveals about New York intellectuals,nmany of whom do form a nationnapart. For these men and women, lifenoutside of New York would constitute annunendurable exile, in large measurenbecause they possess very little sense ofnbelonging to America, a land that isnpopulated—if forums such as the NewnYork Review of Books, The New Yorkernand the New York Times are to benbelieved—by philistine businessmennand imprisoned spirits. New Yorkersnimagine themselves to be on the side ofnliberation, uncompromising enemies ofnthe stultifying and outmoded conventionsnof provincial life. To live in NewnnnYork is thus to celebrate the possibilitiesnof the future and to decry the burden ofnthe past. That is why New York intellectualsnare so receptive to ideas andnideologies that promise a world in whichnlimits are no longer recognized.nAmong those American writers whosenwork mirrors this ideal-typical Weltanschauungnis the subject of this exhaustivenauthorized biography. Clifford Odetsnwas born in Philadelphia in 1906 to anfamily of Russian-Jewish immigrants,nbut soon moved to the Bronx. Later,nwhen his parents returned to Philadelphia,nhis “sense of asphyxiauon was madenmore acute by the contrast between thenavant-garde intellectual ferment andnfreedom of New York’s Greenwich Villagenand the polite, well-padded smallntalk of even literate Philadelphians,nmany of whom were still opposing Whitman’snpoetry as ‘coarse.’ ” WorshipingnWhitman as he did, and admiring suchnlegendary habitues of the Village as JohnnReed, Max Eastman, Emma Goldman,nTheodore Dreiser and—e-rciiiu ;—nEugene O’Neill, Odets naturaiiy chosenNew York City over the backwater ofnPhiladelphia.nCapuvated by the theater at an earlynage, Odets dropped out of high school tonseek his fortune on the legitimate stage.nAfter several years of indifferent success,nhe joined the Group Theatre organizednin 1931 by Harold Clurman and LeenStrasberg. Influenced by Russian directorsnsuch as Stanislavsky and Meyerhold,nthese talented men sought to bring a newnseriousness and intensity to the Americannstage, disdaining (for a time) commercialnsuccess. The zeal they inspired innthe members of their company was not,nhowever, merely professional. For Odetsnand his comrades the Group was at oncenan adoptive family, a way of life and ancommitment to the future. Out of thisncrucible of family loves, jealousies andnhostilides, there emerged several actorsnof distinction, including John Garfield,nElia Kazan and Lee J. Cobb. Frustratednby his failure to compete successfullynwith performers of this stamp, Odetsnbegan in the early 1930’s to write playsn