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Paperback The Tidewater Tales Book

ISBN: 080185556X

ISBN13: 9780801855566

The Tidewater Tales

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Book Overview

"Tell me a story..." Katherine Shorter Sherritt Sagamore, 8 1/2 months pregnant, is a blue-blooded library scientist and founding mother of the American Society for the Preservation of Storytelling. Her husband Peter, 8 1/2 months nervous, is a blue-collar storyteller with a penchant for brevity. Sailing in the Chesapeake Bay, they tell each other tales to break the writer's block handed Peter by his Muse, to ease the weight of Katherine's pregnancy,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Clearly a banquet that lingers in the memory

Peter is a working class successful writer who has become blocked and so begs his well heeled wife (Katherine) who is 8 ½ months pregnant to set him a task. She does which is to tell stories as they sail around the Chesapeake Bay (a 200 mile long estuary on the Virginia and Maryland coastlines) in their boat called Story. During of which we discover how they fell in love in the 60's but not met up until the 70's and why they are having babies now as they hit 40. But this is only one of three other love stories in the novel. One is the love of landscape and the other is of sailing. Both of which are powerfully evoked throughout the novel. Their love story, landscape and sailing are then effectively linked to their families. Hers being local old money who have shaped the land since before the USA was founded and his being boat builders who have shaped access to the water since coming over in the 19th century. Katherine's family are open, generous friendly and sophisticated so accept and support the whims of Peter and Katherine to sail around the Bay. Likewise Peter shy and intense and Katherine open and bright are deep friends and in love so we like the characters and join in the physicality evoked by the writing. However these are but three of several strands in the novel, two others are a political thriller and an eco-mystery. The first explores the CIA-KGB spy games as the SALT talks dirty tricks play out in the local area. The second looks at the environmental damage being done by illegal dumping. Both story lines are linked firmly with Katharine's ex husband and her charming but wastrel brother but not as you expect. But all this are themes for the real focus of the novel which is about the art and mystery of writing and story telling. So over the 14 days of sailing we move in and out of the stories of Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn, 1001 nights of Arabian Tales, Odyssey as they shape and are shaped by the love story landscape and sailing. We meet the narrators as characters finishing their own stories and shaping the novel as we do as reader-characters. This means that the narrative moves through a whole range of formats (plays, short essays, monologues, puns, wordplay etc) and genres (love story, social comedy, thriller, family saga, etc) with us and the unborn babies as narrator commentators along with the characters who know they are in a story. And we know their fates outside the story itself. Don't expect a quick read as its 655 pages and small print but do expect an intellectual tour de force and a page turner for what is mediation on writing that races along driven by the reader's identification with Peter's writers block, and their immediate parenthood while the multi-layer story entertains and stretches. Clearly a banquet that lingers in the memory when many beans on toast novels have been long forgotten so highly recommended.

Set me a task!

Set me a task indeed! It has become the catch phrase my wife and I use to pull ourselves out of a funk... and reading this book will pull just about anyone out of theirs. Following Peter and Kate's sailing adventure over the course of the last 14 days of their pregnancy (with twins) is a celebration of life. Don't be daunted by it's length! It's like reading multiple books in one: a travel book, a play, throw a little espionage and environmentalism into the pot and meet some of literature's greatest characters along the way. Get through the first 50 pages, then sit back and enjoy the ride. By the end you'll find that you just don't want it to end.

What he's done is what he'll do

Of the maybe five novels of Barth I've read so far in my young life, this is probably my favorite of them all (Sot-Weed Factor does run a close second, however) if only due to the laziness factor since I didn't feel I needed a doctorate in English literature or mythology to understand everything that was going on. All told, on the surface this is probably one of the lighter books he's done . . . it's basically about a couple (teh wife's eight months pregnant) going out sailing in Cheaspeake Bay and to pass time they start telling stories. Except it's about everything else too and slowly the novel starts to incorporate local history, the knots of the characters' lives, mythology, plays, short stories . . . you name it. For someone not of Barth's skill this would come off as a tedious academic exercise merely to show the author's genre bending abilities. Once in a while it teeters toward that but manages to stay on the right side of the line. What helps is the sheer exuburance of the book, the people all seem to like each other (not that there isn't conflict), folks are happy with their lives, never before has Barth managed to create a more three dimensional set of people or given them a more realistic world to inhabit. It's just genuinely enjoyable to read, especially as the stories and stories-within-stories start to bounce off each othere. There are echoes of several of Barth's earlier works here, I spotted definitely Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera (and the Sot-Weed Factor is mentioned) so for long time readers it's a bit of a revisit with old friends. Is the book probably longer than it needs to be? Yeah, but if long books are your problem than you shouldn't be reading Barth. The main couple Peter and Katherine are sometimes a bit too precious for words (the constant renaming of the babies got annoying real fast) and in spurts there is just too much love going around but I can't really level that as a flaw now, can I? Politics does threaten to creep in every so often but it's dated eighties style politics now so I didn't pay much attention to it. Overall, it doesn't break any vibrant new ground for Barth but serves as a fine summing up of his strengths and his skills, the man can tell a decent story and he can write the pants off just about anybody (and no, those aren't the same thing) so if you want a fun "literary" novel that won't overwhelm you with all those nasty post-modern tricks those oh so erudite authors love to pull on unsuspecting readers, this might just be what you're looking for. Just stay away if you're allergic to mythology, if you want to read Barth it's not something you can easily escape from. But I like it anyway.

Truly the most pleasurable read I've ever experienced.

I'm 5 pages from the end of this book, but I'm postponing reading them because I just don't want it to end. Like The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, this book is escapism at its most extreme.The framing is phenomenal, mirror images abound, pairs proliferate, and while things constantly remain at the edge of confusion, Barth always reins you in just before you teeter off into chaos. So deft with words, and even more so with their meanings, Barth has written what is quite possibly my favorite book of all time.

Like the tide, Barth's stories cleanse and refresh our life

I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations. John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years. A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty . Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...). Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story. But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing. Like the age-old games from which his writings spring (the quest/redemption stories of the Iliad and Oddessy, the "doomed" prophet stories of the Old and New Testaments, the mistaken identity games of Shakespeare and thousands of authors since, and the metaphor of story as voyage and voyage as growth from Chaucer, 1001 Nights, etc), Barth plays his games to remind us that the act of story telling *is* the experience, it *is* the reason we read: the experience of hearing ghost stories around the camp fire remains with us long long after we have forgotten the actual story. And then I remember that, as a reader, I have no more "right" to expect neatness and closure in a Barth story than I have the right to expect neatness and closure in my own life. Try as we might, our own work, our own story is always in progress. And like Barth's beloved Tidewater, the ebb and flow of our own story defies our attempt to capture to master it. In the end, life and Barth's stories remain as delightfully cleansing as the tide itself. KRH www.umeais.maine.edu/~hayward
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