2015 Barthelme Prize Winner: Taylor Swift

Hugh Behm-Steinberg

Full disclosure: I tried quite hard to resist choosing “Taylor Swift” as the winner of this year’s Barthelme Award. Why? Because all the stories I received were worthy and many were more technically ambitious when it came to language and form, by which I guess I mean experimental. Also, because I feared Taylor Swift, as an idol of consumption, might not age well, that she might not be saved from drowning as readily as Robert Kennedy. Finally, and most crucially, because I feared selecting a story entitled “Taylor Swift” might speak to my literary deficiencies, or plain old drooling idiocy.

But what the hell. In the end, I just wanted to read this thing again and again. The story does what every great Barthelme story does: it casts a spell. It extradites us to a realm of strange wonders and incantatory rhythms in which we are forced to acknowledge that the heart and its deranged pursuit of love cannot be disabled or even diminished by our neurotic defenses.

The story is a fairytale, much in the spirit of Barthelme’s incandescent parable, “The School,” one in which the passion of the individual overrules death and existential dread of even the modern self-inflicted nightmare of fame. “Taylor Swift” is also, not incidentally, funny as hell. I read it to my wife. I read it to my nine-year-old daughter. I read it to my neighbor. I walked outside my little house and stood on the soggy steps and sang the words out to the stupid birds in the trees.

—Steve Almond


You’re in love; it’s great, you swipe on your phone and order: the next day a Taylor Swift clone shows up at your house. It’s not awkward, it’s everything you want. She knows all her songs, and she sings them just for you. When you put your Taylor Swift to bed (early, you got a big day tomorrow) you peek over the fence into the Rosenblatt’s yard, and the lights are blazing. Your best friend Tina has three Taylor Swifts swimming in her pool. She has a miniature Taylor Swift she keeps on a perch, a Taylor Swift with wings. You’re so jealous. She’s not even paying attention to them, she’s too busy having sex with her other Taylor Swifts, they’re so fucking loud it’s disgusting. You hate Taylor Swift.

So you wake up your Taylor Swift and put her to work doing your chores. Why are you being so mean to me she asks you, but you won’t look her in the eye. Instead you ask your mom for an advance on your allowance now that all the chores are done, and with the money you get three more Taylor Swifts. When they arrive you make them do nothing but cardio and kickboxing training for weeks on end. And steroids. They look all sweaty and hard and sexy but, unlike some people, you know all about delayed gratification. You make your Taylor Swifts sleep in separate crates.

You call your best friend Tina and say wouldn’t it be great to have a Taylor Swift party? We could bring all our Taylor Swifts, drink Diet Pepsi and smoke pot. Tina says that sounds like fun; let’s do it this weekend, my parents will be gone all weekend.

Saturday, you let one of your pumped up quivering Taylor Swifts ring the doorbell and who answers but Taylor Swift. Come on in, we’re all by the pool. By the pool all of Tina’s Taylor Swifts are naked, getting tan, they all look so sweet and lazy. They’re drinking Diet Pepsi while Tina is lighting an apple bong. So, she says, passing you the apple, what shall we do with all these Taylor Swifts? 

You look at her, she’s just glowing, you’ve never wanted to be with anyone else but her in your entire life. And there goes your plan to have all your Taylor Swifts beat the crap out of all her Taylor Swifts. Let’s go to your room, you tell her. There’s something I want to show you.

A little later, the Taylor Swifts smile as they hear the two of you. The one with wings stretches and practices her nightingale routine. She knows that one day the real Taylor Swift will see the videos she uploaded, and the videos will be so beautiful, so perfect, that the real Taylor Swift will send her limo driver to pick her up and take her to the real Taylor Swift’s tower in New York City, where at last she too will be loved.