There's a John Gardner biography out. I do swear by Gardner's books on writing to a large extent, but I don't agree with everything he said; in particular I think he got Donald Barthelme wrong. He obviously admired Barthelme's inventiveness, but gave the following qualification in The Art of Fiction:
All his work, from Snow White to The Dead Father, might be read as, among other things, a tour-de-force study in literary (and visual) technique. His worldview, in all his fiction, is essentially absurdist: Characters struggle with problems that cannot be solved and either accept their fate or struggle on.... One of the things that make his writing interesting is his seemingly limitless ability to manipulate techniques as modes of apprehension. It goes without saying that, for Barthelme, they apprehend nothing: Reality is a place we cannot get to from here.
I might have been more inclined to believe that when the only thing I had read was 60 Stories, though even in that collection there were standouts, like "Miss Mandible And Me" and "The School," that obviously hit deeper nerves. Having now read a couple of novels that bore into sex (Snow White) and death (The Dead Father) and any number of other English 101 themes, I think it's safe to say that there's quite a bit being apprehended here. There isn't even any particular effort to hide the pathos. I can't believe The Dead Father is out of print; everyone should read it. Everyone who has a father.
On a barely related tangent, in my continuing hunt for decent store-bought tortillas I picked up a brand called "Bien Padre." This does not mean "good father"; it means "well father," and thus sounds like a phrase you would use in conversation with a priest. "Bien, padre, ¿dónde está el servicio de caballeros?"