on June 4, 2006
Lost in the Funhouse can be a very bewildering and irritating collection if you aren't in the right mood for it. If you aren't well-versed in post-modern fiction (barthelme, calvino, etc are good reference points) you might want to start somewhere else first. Even Barth's novels are more immediately digestible.
With that said, though, this collection doesn't really operate on one consistent level. Perhaps this is because many of these stories were written by Barth much earlier in his career. The three stories concerning Ambrose's birth and development are very straightforward and enjoyable on a surface level until the whole series goes flying into left-field with the titular "Lost in the Funhouse" story (which Barth is probably most known for). From that point on, most of the stories are more about the process of writing and the relationship between the reader, writer, and the characters. Stories like "Title" and "Life-Story" work more as essays on the nature of fiction than actual works of fiction, and were (for me at least) a little tedious. The best moments occur when Barth combines his thoughful analysis on the nature of writing and art with a really good ground-situation, typically based on Greek mythology. The best of these are the utterly raunchy "Petitition" and the labyrinthine "Menelaiad".
Taken as a whole, though, Lost in the Funhouse is greatly satisfying, even if (like me) you really only understood about 20% of what Barth was talking about on your first read-through. It's the sort of book I'll go back to again and again to try and delve deeper into the mystery of the funhouse while appreciating all over the hilarious bawdy humor.
Oh, and make sure to read Barth's seven additional notes at the front of the book (though maybe only after you've read the story that is being discussed in each note, so as not to ruin the initial experience)-- they really help to clarify some of Barth's intentions. I can't even imagine appreciating a story like "Glossolalia" without having read the note concerning it.
on October 27, 2007
In his introduction to this collection of tales, John Barth warns that writing shorting stories isn't his strong suit; he'd rather write novels. Well, I thought, you don't have to read the goat entrails to see this isn't an auspicious augur since *reading* short stories isn't my mine; I prefer novels. Could it be worse? As writer and reader we were perfectly matched: that is, perfectly wrong for each other. What a surprise then! Turns out either writer and/or reader were both happily mistaken and/or correct yet fortuitously found the slim exception to the rule. *Lost in the Funhouse* is a remarkable book--a stunning sampling of erudition, wit, originality, and linguistic pyrotechnics of such deft complexity I dare you not to get lost at least half a dozen times and I double-dare you not to laugh out loud at least as many.
Be forewarned: these aren't the O Henry! type short stories of your grandpappy's day--the kind with clear-cut beginnings, waistlines, and back ends. They aren't cluttered with all those moth-ridden, mold-covered boxes of conceptual costumes from the prehistory of narrative: stuff like character, conflict, setting, dramatic progression, etc. If you're looking for Hemingway or Steinbeck, read Hemingway or Steinbeck. There are characters in Barth's fiction--"voices" properly speaking--but who are they, who are you, who is the author? There is a setting--but exactly where is it, where is anything, are we only *just* imagining it all? There is a story, of sorts--but it's fractured, inconsistent, starts somewhere, progresses a while and could end, like life, like this sentence, at any time, anywhere.
The subjects of these stories are as wildly unlikely as the method of their telling, including: a sperm's journey; Menelaus and Helen after the Trojan War; a young boy's surrealistic experience in a decrepit funhouse by the shore. The stories are linked, so says their author, but only in the most oblique of ways, so says this reader. But it's not important--they each stand alone, linked most obviously by Barth's main concern: the difficulty--if not the sheer impossibility--of telling a simple story at all, of getting at the truth, or the fiction.
Many will be perplexed beyond all patience with *Lost in the Funhouse,* others will dismiss it as self-conscious postmodern prattle, but those who keep going through this maze of distorting mirrors, secret passages, creepy terrors, and ribald comedy will find themselves passing themselves in opposite directions, mystified, charmed, and not a little disconcerted. Barth tells a complex story by *not* telling a story better than most writers tell a story. He clearly knows his way around the conventions and uses them to illustrate how utterly inadequate the conventions are to describing our experience. Barth doesn't bring you to the end or even back to the beginning; he brings you back to the middle which is where you showed up in the first place, exactly where you were when you first realized you were lost.
You can't reader yourself out of this funhouse no more than Barth could write himself out of it and it's at that point you can begin to relax and enjoy the goofy, cheesy horror of it all.
on June 8, 1996
In his story, "The Immortal," Jorge Luis Borges describes a
labyrinth as "a structure compounded to confuse men; its
architecture, rich in symmetries, is subordinated to that end."*
Similarly, the stories of Barth's collection _Lost in the Funhouse_,
present a labyrinth of narrative fiction, in their exploration
of the story as medium, voice, and tool of the magician. The
fourteen stories, reflecting Barth's idea of a narrative as
a structure, take the varied forms of Mobius strip, letter,
autobiography, and tale; what makes for additional complexity,
is the insistence by each of the stories' characters (who include
a siamese twin, heroes of the Odyssey,and an abandoned court
minstrel) to have his or her say. Inherent in this is Barth's
insistence on the infinite number of possible constructions
of a narrative, which stun the reader through his descriptions,
plot lines (knots, in some cases), and ideas. Read _Lost
in the Funhouse_ to witness Barth's magic, and to be reminded
of the combined power of voice and language, storytelling.
*(Jorge Luis Borges, "The Immortal," _Labyrinths_: New Directions
on February 10, 2013
When you start reading this, you will be confused. Very confused. The first chapter is from the point of view of a (try reading it first, then google it). After that, the stories get immensely more readable and relatable. This is a fun little collection of loosely related short stories. and is certainly worth the read.
on September 6, 2014
Somehow I have missed this book, but it is a must-read if you are at all interested in the development of self-reference as a trope in postmodern fiction. Barth's commitment in this volume to write narratives that are aware of their role as such makes this quite a read (and a blueprint for later pomo heavy-hitters such as DFW in that it is interested in using these devices as means to an end, not as ends in themselves like so much dead-end, pyrotechnic writing). This book is an obligatory passage point.
on February 12, 2012
Lost in the Funhouse is a fearless short story collection where subject matter is constantly inverted from the norm and readers are meant to be teased. The mundane becomes the epic and the epic becomes the mundane. Narrators are often comically self-conciousness, supposedly bored with their work, and yet, occasionally boastful. Of course, every boast is appropriately paired with the sting of hilarious self-deprication. John Barth is clearly having a great time, and it is the reader who really benefits.
Ultimately, Lost in the Funhouse is a literary master's hall of mirrors on paper and a Metafictions "R" Us, but for some that means it will be a confusing 200 page hike. Are you well versed in greek mythology? Are you a close reader? A fan of literary puzzles? Like stories about telling stories? Willing to put up with intentional obscurity? If not, try something else. For many who aren't well versed in all of the minor details (like me), Barth's playfulness and skill will make up for any confusion. But it's not for everyone, and Barth is well aware of that. I loved it. Maybe you will too.
on April 20, 2014
I read LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE in college in the early 1970s. I didn't do hallucinogenic drugs and didn't need to, not as long as I had LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE to mess up my reality.
I remember the book as a mind-bending book of stories, each with its own point of view and manner of storytelling. It's almost a primer in the many ways in which you can (and can't!) tell stories.
I'd love to revisit this marvelous book, and I would if it were available for Kindle. As it is, I need to find a copy at a used book store.
on September 10, 2014
A great introduction to postmodernism for anyone who is interested in this literary period - the term is thrown around a lot these days, but John Barth is the real deal.
on January 12, 2015
JB is brilliant and always worth reading. This is him at perhaps his best, although Sot-Weed Factor is a staggeringly brilliant book.
on March 6, 2007
Taken both separately and as an arranged series, these 14 stories explore the relationships between narrative, life, knowledge, creation, self and being. Like much of Barth's work, these texts wrestle with the profound implication that insight into the way we narrativize experience, into the way we make and tell stories, can actually help us understand how we perceive and live life. Deeply existential, yet also inventive and playful, Lost in the Funhouse twists and turns the established folds of form and meaning, trying to tease out something new. Where the stories succeed, they shimmer brilliantly.
In a few instances, however, the book sinks a little too far into post-modern self-referentiality, with stories about their own conception, about their own futility. While these concepts are intriguing, and Barth's examinations lively, several pages worth is often too much. Especially at first reading, such stories seem not only bewildering but also boorish, even annoying. Part of the problem is perhaps simply that such ideas are no longer new. But it's also true that some of the stories are rather obscure, so much so that the book now includes Barth's "Seven Additional Author's Notes," for needed clarification.
The stories in this slim volume, many of which are post-modern or metafictional experiments, seem inevitable, even necessary. Eventually someone was going to have to write them, and no one is perhaps more capable of exploring narrative and form in this way than John Barth. Some of the stories drag and feel a little tedious, which the reader should be prepared for, but overall, this is a challenging, rewarding and expansive book. Lost in the funhouse, indeed...