cover image On with the Story: Stories

On with the Story: Stories

John Barth. Little Brown and Company, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-316-08263-1

In novels like the National Book Award-winning Chimera, Barth has displayed an ingenious fusion of postmodern, metafictional narrative style and seductive tales. The deconstructive bent is still firmly intact in this collection of 11 short stories. Unfortunately, the tales told are mostly slim and self-indulgent. Many involve middle-aged to elderly academics or writers as they take vacations to places like Club Med, ponder flirtations with other academics or writers or worry about their careers. It's surprising, since Barth links these tepid pieces with clever interludes in which an unnamed, beach-vacationing couple, who are supposedly reading the stories along with the reader, provide contentious running commentary on them. But the stories themselves are remarkably strained: ""And Then One Day..."" has Elizabeth, a 40-something novelist, wondering about a possible love affair with her old writing teacher, a man 20 years her senior, filtered through the very male perspective of the chatty, ""omniscient"" narrator. Another attractive 40-something woman, Alice, is the central character of ""On with the Story."" While on a plane from Boston to Oregon, she has a friendly conversation with an older man (a writer) sitting next to her; ponders her recent divorce, literature and the stages of being a baby boomer; and reads a story that is, unbeknownst to her, written by her seatmate. It's a pity there aren't more pieces like ""Goodbye to the Fruits,"" in which Barth forgoes his stable of stereotypical characters for a joyous, beautifully written and sometimes hilarious ode to fruit. When he's got a subject worth subjecting to his metafictional gamesmanship, Barth remains a sly, inventive and uniquely talented writer. Rights: Wylie, Aitken & Stone. (July)