I just made it through Barth's collection, not having read any of his other novels. What are other anons' thoughts on it? Did the cohesion (or more often lack thereof) among the stories work for you? Why or why not? et cetera
I loved it and so did pic related
yes Barth's later stuff has started to spiral narrower and narrower in terms of thematic content or organization but he was a true innovator
love me some sot weed factor and giles goat boy yes surree
I'll put it on my ever-growing to-read list. Honestly, Lost in the Funhouse isn't my favorite. It's good enough to get through, there are a few really great revelatory moments, and I've heard tell of its literary importance, but overall it felt like work more than anything. I suspect that had a lot to do with not having much of a background in Greek mythology or literature. I'm also fairly new to getting myself into literature in general, and this one felt tackleable.
If there's a compelling reason to read Chimera right away then I'll look into it, but otherwise I think it'd be wise for me to take a break from barth and build up a fuller basis (i.e. some of the memes here and some other works I'm into but are rarely mentioned)
Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy are also brilliant. First two novels (Floating Opera and End of the Road) are good too. And once you're done with those six books, you should read LETTERS.
I finished LitF just a few days before Christmas.
Bought it after reading Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (wherein, as the other poster said, DFW expresses his enjoyment of the story (or collection? That was not made clear.))
First off, this was my first Barth book as well. And I'm not thoroughly impressed. I'm having trouble thinking of a word to describe my impression of Barth's writing here. I just got the feeling that he thought he was way better and way more clever than he really was.
Night-Sea Journey was, again, this is all my own personal opinion, only worthwhile for the 'twist.' It tried to sound very, very deep (and maybe that was the point, this single cell having such deep thoughts). But I enjoyed the story only once I realized what it was really about. After reading the whole collection, this was maybe my #3.
The title story, Lost in the Funhouse, was easily my #1. I think this story is a shining example of meta-fiction done right. Barth is bringing us along on this journey from the car ride to the funhouse, but we skip around as he mocks narrative techniques (like naming a town like S------ Town to make a story more realistic, etc) and occasionally breaks the 4th Wall ("I'll never be an author.").
And then the story ends in a place we did not expect it to as Barth betrays our expectations, telling us all along it would end with Ambrose's escape but really ends with him cursing his future role as a funhouse maker (metaphor here: an author can't enjoy stories just as stories anymore -- they're too aware of the techniques that go into crafting them. They instead focus on admiring the way the funhouse (story) operates. The tricks it uses, the secret paths it contains.) I'd say that's part of why DFW loves LitF so much. It's a writer's kind of story instead of a reader's kind of story.
Now, going back to why I said Barth isn't so clever as he'd like to think he is: He makes a big point in the intro about how it's not "just" a collection of short stories. It's "something more." They're "meant to be taken together." But they're connected in (again, to me) such a bare way that Barth's comment comes off as unmerited braggadocio. Ambrose His Mark is alright, and so is the one about the message in the bottle, but the characters that are reused in LitF are barely the same people. It's irrelevant. If anything, I'd recommend skipping Ambrose His Mark before LitF because in AHM, a big deal is made about the father being in a psych ward -- and yet in LitF, he's totally fine and the family makes no mention of it. That threw me off a bit.
And though you could pretend the character in later stories (Title, Anonymiad) is in some way a grown-up, post-Funhouse Ambrose, it really adds absolutely nothing to the "collection" at all, again, in my opinion.
Also, I thought Title and that other one about an author writing his own life story were meta-fiction done horribly wrong. They were neat ideas, but (cont.)
(cont.) but I believe the poster who wrote "gimmicky" is right about these.
Where LitF is executed well (there is a clear story about a trip, mixed with a unique narrative technique that jumps around chronologically and comments reflexively on the story itself), the other meta-fiction stories in here are half-baked. I believe it was Title where, instead of explaining what he's talking about, Barth would just end a sentence early. (I don't have the book in front of me to reference exactly what it said.) But again, the other meta-fiction besides LitF bored me terribly.
The Menelaid, I'll admit I haven't read the prerequisite Greek literature, but I knew a enough about the Illiad to get the gist of Helen, Paris, Troy, Odysseus, Hector, etc. And while I appreciate the quotes within quotes, multiple Inception-like levels of the story, there was no real point to the story beyond Barth saying "Look what I can do!" I wasn't entertained and I didn't really learn anything. It was somewhat impressive, I'll admit. But to me, almost pointless. Art for the sake of art. Which is not bad. But what I'm trying to say is that it didn't tickle me. I felt Menelaid was a slog.
Anonymiad was much better, my #2. The beginning was rough, but once the story about the singer picked up it was nice. The meta-fiction here was less overt than LitF and Title. Stuff like "I can't include chapter 3 because I'm running out of goat skin to write on," did amuse me quite a bit.
All in all, worth reading. I'll probably check out Chimera at some point because it won the National Book Award. If I like that it'll be off to Giles Goat-Boy, etc.
But if you want to dip your toe in the water on Barth, just read the story "Lost in the Funhouse" instead of the collection.
Oh, and The Petition was funny.
Great points, and thanks for taking the time to write them out. My top three were in exactly your order. Night-Sea Journey, although containing some gimmicks toward the end, was rather effective for me at conveying the fairy-tale-ish world.
I pretty well enjoyed the non-meta stories presented in Ambrose His Mark and Water Message, and one of the points of dissonance for me was that, in the rest of the book, I was partially looking for more stories conventionally told and partially looking for the postmodern wankery. In small, particular sections, both of those came through really well (on a conventional story level, the narrator's realization on "what a funhouse is actually for" — i.e. for couples older and more pubescent than he to run through together — was affecting and sad; on a postmodern level, headpiece and tailpiece of Anonymiad came together super well for me), but overall the collection was a drag to reach these moments.
Though I haven't read much of him yet, what I have read of Borges' short fiction has accomplished both of those things (straight-out storytelling as well as a bareback mindfucking) more satisfyingly than LitF did, so I think for the time being he's a better bet for me.
I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining about Barth, I'm glad I read him and am totally willing to try out other things even if they might not work the best for me. With that in mind, is there someone else Borges- and Barth-like who I ought to try out?
AHM and Water Message were solid stories on their own.
Title and Autobiography (whatever that one was called) were very meh. Perhaps if he had taken the time to draft an actual plot around his meta devices in those two stories I'd like them better. But as it stands, they were half-baked -- like he had a neat meta idea and rushed to write a story with it . . . but forgot to create characters or plot.
I tried to record myself reading each paragraph of Glossolalia in Audacity and play them all back at the same time. Couldn't get the sounds to line up and create the desired effect. Tried just the first sentence of each while speaking carefully and it sorta maybe sounded like the Lord's Prayer. The note in the back of the book hints at this being right, or at least close.