cover image Tidewater Tales

Tidewater Tales

John Barth. Putnam Publishing Group, $21.95 (655pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13247-6

In Barth's work since The Sot-Weed Factor, fiction itselfstorytelling as a way of experiencing and rendering the worldclaims the center of attention. Even the sloop in which the principal characters of the current novel drift in the noxious waters of Chesapeake Bay is called Story. Peter Sagamore, a university professor of the Art of Everdiminishing Fiction, is a writer; Katherine is his immensely pregnant wife and, in the fullness of time, mother of twins. What ""happens'' isn't the point: manner is everything; playfulness is given free rein; and Barth brings commensurate resources of imaginative energy and invention to his huge, volatile, hyperkinetic novel, which draws on classical and other exotic storehouses of story. For all the exuberance driving this narrative flood, some readers will be oppressed by the flash, pop and sparkle, and some will devoutly wish for the return of everyday realism. That sly, elliptical, bumptious fictioneer Peter Sagamore would neither expect nor desire anything else. (June 22)