cover image Where 3 Roads Meet: Novellas

Where 3 Roads Meet: Novellas

John Barth, . . Houghton Mifflin, $23 (163pp) ISBN 978-0-618-61016-7

Teller, tale, torrid (and torpid) inspiration: Barth's 17th book brings these three narrative "roads" together inimitably, and thrice. It employs all of his familiar devices—alliteration, shifts in diction and time, puns ("Leda lays egg, Egg hatches Helen, Helen lays Paris, Paris lays waste to Troy")—to tease and titillate, while at the same time articulate—obliquely, sadly, angrily, gloriously—a farewell to language and its objects: us. The first of three lightly linked novellas, "Tell Me," introduces the three Freds: Alfred, Winifred and Wilfred, post-WWII collegemates who play jazz together, talk frankly and joustingly into the night, and form two alternating pas de deux. One particular set of exchanges sets the course of Wilfred's career; the whole story is a look back by him, a near lifetime later, at the before and after of that moment. The second piece, "I've Been Told," presents a hero's tale that speaks in the first person (the story itself is the narrator)—"that story c'est moi guys, and here's how I go, now that I've got myself cranked up and more or less under way"—and puns endlessly. (It also has Freds). The third, "As I Was Saying," uses the title's participle to riff on writing's eroticism: its three sisters, unreliable narrators all, use a Krapp's Last Tape –type conceit to tell of the sexual maelstrom of their adult lives, within which an infamous, Barthian novelist (Manfred F. Dickson Sr.) wrote. Wrote?The story ends in a mix of the past, present and future progressive: "As I was saying..." (Nov. 21)