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Paperback Lost in the Funhouse Book

ISBN: 0385240872

ISBN13: 9780385240871

Lost in the Funhouse

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Book Overview

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. As the characters search, each in his own way, for their purpose and the meaning of their existence, Lost in the Funhouse takes on a hiliarious, often moving significance...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

I write therefore I am...

In his introduction to this collection of tales, John Barth warns that writing shorting stories isn't his strong suit; he'd rather write novels. Well, I thought, you don't have to read the goat entrails to see this isn't an auspicious augur since *reading* short stories isn't my mine; I prefer novels. Could it be worse? As writer and reader we were perfectly matched: that is, perfectly wrong for each other. What a surprise then! Turns out either writer and/or reader were both happily mistaken and/or correct yet fortuitously found the slim exception to the rule. *Lost in the Funhouse* is a remarkable book--a stunning sampling of erudition, wit, originality, and linguistic pyrotechnics of such deft complexity I dare you not to get lost at least half a dozen times and I double-dare you not to laugh out loud at least as many. Be forewarned: these aren't the O Henry! type short stories of your grandpappy's day--the kind with clear-cut beginnings, waistlines, and back ends. They aren't cluttered with all those moth-ridden, mold-covered boxes of conceptual costumes from the prehistory of narrative: stuff like character, conflict, setting, dramatic progression, etc. If you're looking for Hemingway or Steinbeck, read Hemingway or Steinbeck. There are characters in Barth's fiction--"voices" properly speaking--but who are they, who are you, who is the author? There is a setting--but exactly where is it, where is anything, are we only *just* imagining it all? There is a story, of sorts--but it's fractured, inconsistent, starts somewhere, progresses a while and could end, like life, like this sentence, at any time, anywhere. The subjects of these stories are as wildly unlikely as the method of their telling, including: a sperm's journey; Menelaus and Helen after the Trojan War; a young boy's surrealistic experience in a decrepit funhouse by the shore. The stories are linked, so says their author, but only in the most oblique of ways, so says this reader. But it's not important--they each stand alone, linked most obviously by Barth's main concern: the difficulty--if not the sheer impossibility--of telling a simple story at all, of getting at the truth, or the fiction. Many will be perplexed beyond all patience with *Lost in the Funhouse,* others will dismiss it as self-conscious postmodern prattle, but those who keep going through this maze of distorting mirrors, secret passages, creepy terrors, and ribald comedy will find themselves passing themselves in opposite directions, mystified, charmed, and not a little disconcerted. Barth tells a complex story by *not* telling a story better than most writers tell a story. He clearly knows his way around the conventions and uses them to illustrate how utterly inadequate the conventions are to describing our experience. Barth doesn't bring you to the end or even back to the beginning; he brings you back to the middle which is where you showed up in the first place, exactly where you were when you first realized y

Confusing, Hilarious, Profound

Lost in the Funhouse can be a very bewildering and irritating collection if you aren't in the right mood for it. If you aren't well-versed in post-modern fiction (barthelme, calvino, etc are good reference points) you might want to start somewhere else first. Even Barth's novels are more immediately digestible. With that said, though, this collection doesn't really operate on one consistent level. Perhaps this is because many of these stories were written by Barth much earlier in his career. The three stories concerning Ambrose's birth and development are very straightforward and enjoyable on a surface level until the whole series goes flying into left-field with the titular "Lost in the Funhouse" story (which Barth is probably most known for). From that point on, most of the stories are more about the process of writing and the relationship between the reader, writer, and the characters. Stories like "Title" and "Life-Story" work more as essays on the nature of fiction than actual works of fiction, and were (for me at least) a little tedious. The best moments occur when Barth combines his thoughful analysis on the nature of writing and art with a really good ground-situation, typically based on Greek mythology. The best of these are the utterly raunchy "Petitition" and the labyrinthine "Menelaiad". Taken as a whole, though, Lost in the Funhouse is greatly satisfying, even if (like me) you really only understood about 20% of what Barth was talking about on your first read-through. It's the sort of book I'll go back to again and again to try and delve deeper into the mystery of the funhouse while appreciating all over the hilarious bawdy humor. Oh, and make sure to read Barth's seven additional notes at the front of the book (though maybe only after you've read the story that is being discussed in each note, so as not to ruin the initial experience)-- they really help to clarify some of Barth's intentions. I can't even imagine appreciating a story like "Glossolalia" without having read the note concerning it.

Stretching short stories

I will admit that there are plenty of classic masterpiece quality short stories out there, collections or otherwise. I'm just not an avid reader of them . . . maybe I just like big hefty books, maybe I don't like switching gears every twenty pages or so . . . who knows? But I do like Barth and this is pretty short so I figured, what the hey? Unlike most short story collections which generally just wait until an author has enough stories to fill a book before publishing, this book was originally conceived as a group of short stories that in some form or another share the same thematic elements and much like an album, is sequenced into a proper order and should be read that way. So he says. Barth admits in the foreword that he doesn't normally write short stories and this was his attempt at playing with the medium, which as you might suspect gives you all kinds of hit or miss stories . . . generally the quality is pretty high and for such an academic guy, Barth's pretty funny (he can respect and make fun of mythology at the same time without seeming smug or arch, which I think is hard to do) and if the humor's on, then for the most part that can carry the nuttier moments. Basically it's a "post-modern" sort of short story collection, so there aren't many compromises to things like form or structure or plot (one story is essentially a Moebius strip) which has the effect of making some stories feel like little more than academic exercises in form, rendering them a bit distant emotionally. Like looking at abstract art I guess, you can admire the technique even as you can't appreciate the emotion behind it. But when the collection works, it works great. The title story is my personal favorite, but the last one is the best of the mythology based ones (parts of this seem like a runthrough for Chimera) and overall if you're not looking for Joycean slice of life tales or knotted little tales of suspense, but instead an attempt to bend the rules a bit, then you'll probably like this. Not Barth's best work but it's short and the gems outweigh the duds by a good margin, so it could be worse.

laizzez-faire postmodernism

John Barth is not a doctrinaire postmodernist. He does not reject the label of 'postmodernist writer', but he is not interested in following the doctrine to logical end. That would apparently take the fun out of the funhouse.This book is a series of essays, meditations, short stories and jokes that examine the creative process as ontogeny. Barth is funny and melancholy at the same time. He is skeptical, but also to some degree hopeful, about the possibility of writing anything that could be useful to someone else.His enthusiastic and hilarious references made me want to read or re-read many classic pieces of literature including Allen Ginsberg's "Howl", Ovid's "Metamorphoses" and the Iliad and "1001 Arabian Nights". And he made me believe that I could get a lot more out of them, if I would just question a few more of my presumptions.

Fantastic collection of experimental fiction!

In his story, "The Immortal," Jorge Luis Borges describes a labyrinth as "a structure compounded to confuse men; its architecture, rich in symmetries, is subordinated to that end."* Similarly, the stories of Barth's collection _Lost in the Funhouse_, present a labyrinth of narrative fiction, in their exploration of the story as medium, voice, and tool of the magician. The fourteen stories, reflecting Barth's idea of a narrative as a structure, take the varied forms of Mobius strip, letter, autobiography, and tale; what makes for additional complexity, is the insistence by each of the stories' characters (who include a siamese twin, heroes of the Odyssey,and an abandoned court minstrel) to have his or her say. Inherent in this is Barth's insistence on the infinite number of possible constructions of a narrative, which stun the reader through his descriptions, plot lines (knots, in some cases), and ideas. Read _Lost in the Funhouse_ to witness Barth's magic, and to be reminded of the combined power of voice and language, storytelling. *(Jorge Luis Borges, "The Immortal," _Labyrinths_: New Directions Books, 1962.)
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