In Chimera, John Barth injects his signature wit into the tales of Scheherezade of the Thousand and One Nights; Perseus, the slayer of Medusa; and Bellerophon, who tamed the winged horse Pegasus. In a book that the Washington Post called "stylishly maned, tragically songful, and serpentinely elegant", Barth retells these tales from varying perspectives, examining the myths' relationship to reality and their resonance with the contemporary world. A winner of the National Book Award, this feisty, witty, sometimes bawdy book provoked Playboy to comment, "There's every chance in the world that John Barth is a genius."
©1972 John Barth (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I seemed to often fall backwards into Barth. Chimera was on my radar, but I didn't know much about it. So I was lucky I guess to read it right after finishing Grave's The Greek Myths. Lucky stars or indulgent gods I guess.
Anywho, John Barth re+(tales|tails|tells) two Greek myths (and one Persian frame) into a anachronistic book of three novellas. Somewhat related, but still a dance and music of prose. I thought "Dunyazadiad" was a great set up. It roared. Funny, tight, and always a bit perverse and naughty, Barth takes the story of Scheherazade from tales of the 1001 Nights and reframes the frame story, then flips and pulls it. By the end it felt a bit like watching a biche de mer (sea cucumber) vomit its intestines into a funky twin story.
I thought the second novella, Persiad, was pitch perfect. The story is that of Perseus' and the narrator's search for immortality. The language, rhythm, jokes, structure were flawless. It seemed like a ball hit perfectly that hovers, hums and hangs in space. It was a story that seemed to bend the rules of literary gravity. Like an ouroboros the tail of this story snakes around into a self-eating, circular POMO myth that ends in the stars, or perhaps not.
The third and longest novella "Bellerophoniad" bleats and tells the story of Bellerophon, another Greek hero seeking sex, drugs, adventure and immortality like Perseus and the rest of us mere mortals and wannabe demigoddamwriters. It was the emasculated goat of the trilogy, but damn what a fine wether. It didn't quite live up to its potential or my hope, but contained enough genius to cause several PhD candidates to ruminate themselves into literary pretzels and precarious dissertations for the next 50 years
I'll start with the positive: if you're looking for infinitely sophisticated, superbly written and masterfully narrated postmodern (meta-)fiction, look no further. The book is a prime example of the genre, and the narrator does a perfect job.
For me, however, there was something lacking. Had this been my first exposure to this type of fiction, I imagine I would have thought it the most amazing thing I'd ever read, but as things stand, I find that the style hasn't aged well. The structure, the language and the cleverness of it all are mind-boggling, but still it never drew more than a chuckle from me. It felt like an exercise in cleverness. The book isn't bad, far from it. I just felt that it lacked a point.
I may as well have listening to a middle school slander fest. Give me the mythology (it is rich enough), or make the tales come from some elementary cafeteria....
Disappointment, poorly spent credit.
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