The story opens:
"Yes," Mr. Phillips said, "ours is a city of churches all right."Cecelia nodded, following his pointing hand. Both sides of the street were solidly lined with churches, standing shoulder to shoulder in a variety of architectural styles. ... "Everyone here takes a great interest in church matters," Mr. Phillips said.
Cecelia, who has come to town with plans of opening a car rental company, immediately wonders if she will fit in - especially since she is not very religious. Mr. Phillips replies that she may not be very religious yet,
"But we have many fine young people here. You'll get integrated into the community soon enough. The immediate problem is where are you to live? Most people," he said, "live in the church of their choice. All of our churches have many extra rooms. I have a few belfry apartments that I can show you."
He also questions the viability of her business proposal:
"Renting a car implies that you want to go somewhere. Most people are pretty content right here. We have a lot of activities. I don't think I'd pick the car-rental business if I was just starting out in Prester. But you'll do fine."
Although the town seems wholesome at first glance, the reader is left with a distinctly uneasy feeling that borders on creepy. I was reminded of The Stepford Wives. This was my first experience with Barthelme, and I plan to seek out more of his stories. Is there one you can recommend?
An abstract of this four page story can be found on The New Yorker website (subscribers have access to the entire text), but I also found it reprinted here.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.