John Barth's lively, highly original collection of short pieces is a major landmark of experimental fiction. Though many of the stories gathered here were published separately, there are several themes common to them all, giving them new meaning in the context of this collection.
©1968 John Barth (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
(A.) Once upon a time there was a review that began: (B.) (b.) Once upon a time there was a review that began (a.)
Barth wrote a novel for himself. He wrote a novel to himself. He doesn't care about you. He is not writing for you. He is not going to make you eat yourshort fiction or even make you shoot the gun sitting on the fictional wall next to you.
Barth makes me sometimes regret my decision to not go to Johns Hopkins. What was I thinking? Perhaps, I could have met Barth. Perhaps, I did go to Johns Hopkins and I did meet Barth in another story in another life. Or, perhaps, I just don't remember, or perhaps I am dreaming I lived a life where I didn't meet Barth.
Why am I trying to even write a Meta-review of Barth well developed for its age? It is all that is left when or after (when is always in the midst of becoming after) I figure I really have both nothing to say and saying anything would be wrong or too much. This book explodes everywhere. Examining :: exhuming :: exhausting each fragment would be too much work too soon.
Everything about Barth has already been transmitted, written about, alluded to, sketched on the soft walls of a thousand reflective uteruses by a million different swimming swimmers prior to drowning. I have nothing left to add. Nothing new that I can capture. No heritage to contribute. No flower to pollinate. No stylized ambition. No original thoughts. The WORLD and the WORD are both paraded parodies WE.
Exploratory Avant-garde fiction
It is an exploration of new directions that fiction has taken since 1960 by a master of the short story form. Starting with a "first-person" story about a spermatozoan's travel during the course of conception, wending its way through stories which are set in the past yet include present and future, simultaneous alternate narratives that are linked yet disparate, stories that include formal commentaries on themselves, this genre-busting, form-twisting collection/novel answered a criticism of the time that fiction was nearly exhausted, and paved a road that modern writing would take up to the present day. Other than that, it was pretty good.
The stories that made formal comments about themselves, such as first declaiming an action or dialogue, then pointing out how such passages 'should' act in a work of fiction, or where they belonged in a plot structure.
No - it ws too intense, and required a significant amount of thinking before and during each story.
I later found a good (and free) commentary on the work by Yale's Amy Hungerford in her course "The American Novel Since 1945," down-loadable as an mp3 or transcript from Open Yale Courses. Barth was one of her professors at Johns Hopkins. Like Joyce's 'Finnegan's Wake,' someone needed to write this, but no one should attempt it again.
Compare eating ice cream to cutting chunks of flesh out of your leg, then call it new and exciting (which might be true momentarily). The memory will stay with me long after the event.
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