cover image The Development

The Development

John Barth, . . Houghton Mifflin, $23 (167pp) ISBN 978-0-547-07248-7

From the iconic Barth come nine darkly comic stories set in a gated community on Maryland's Eastern Shore. In his trademark style—multiple endings, metaphysical musings, breaking the fourth wall—Barth presents a searing indictment of a certain sociological class in the later stages of life, when the worries of advancing age beset characters who are dealing with or anticipating infirmities, burdensome caregiving and wrenching losses. Barth's antic eye for character is undiminished; he fleshes out a spectrum of men and women who run the gamut of professions, political beliefs and financial status, and whose relationships include unwavering marital love, random flirting and adultery. The current(ish) events simmering in the background (the Bush administration's follies, Uganda and Darfur, and several hurricanes) ground the narrative and put the stories into a broader context outside the community's gates. Urbane, discursive and humorous, often bawdy and never sentimental, these stories would be an accessible way for new readers to discover Barth, and his fans, of course, will eat this up. (Oct.)