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Letters Paperback – October 1, 1994
"The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, The Lying Game. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Barth's chimerical epistolary 1979 novel includes a new foreword by the author.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A work of genius." -- New York Times Book Review
"A landmark!... A prodigious and quite remarkable achievement." -- Washington Post Book World
"A testament to Barth's tremendous talent and wit.... A treasure for those who delight in Barth's dazzling and unparalleled ingenuity." -- Publishers Weekly
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Top customer reviews
Although this novel is partly about making a movie (of an earlier novel by Barth), it itself could never be made into a movie. For close readers who appreciated word play, satire, hyper self consciousness.
John Barth, being a writer, understands that, and in this novel he brings back that art for a brief time, with fictional characters. Basically, he takes several people from his early novels and has them all starting to write to each other, and to him, their letters and experiences directing the plot. And what starts out as what could be a too-cute literary trick winds up being extremely revealing, as the characters pour themselves into the letters, regardless of whom they're writing to, as the plot skips and slips through time. On one level it acts as a sequel to those early novels, continuing their stories and although it's not really required to read those books, I'm not going to pretend it doesn't help. The best thing to do would be to read those old novels in one block and then move onto this . . . I read them some years ago so I was a little fuzzy on the finer points. But I picked it up. But Barth captures the voices of his old characters well and even if you didn't know who was writing what letter, you could tell. And thus they tell the recepient, and us, about their hopes and fears, they mingle together, they lie, they come unglued, and by the end you sort of get a tapestry of their thoughts. There's a plot weaving through here but sometimes it becomes hard to connect it with six different people discussing different angles of it with you, but I just went with it and enjoyed the writing for what it was. Some of the writers are better than others (Germaine's are uniformly good, Bray's are funny and nuts, especially how it keeps resetting, Andrews, written to his dead father, as strangely touching . . . only Burlingame's left me cold, with the long history lessons) and for the life of me I can't figure out why this book is seven hundred pages. But there's a definite sense of closure at the end and a further sense that there will be other letters, we just won't see them. Which Barth knows is true, that as dying as letter writing may be, no matter how communication changes, there will always be a place in this world for two people, separated by distance, to try and imbue a bit of themselves into a piece of paper, to soak themselves into the words and try to get that essence somehow across the gap.
It helps that the books that one must read, Barth's early masterpieces, are of such genius as to take up a whole corner of the best of modern literature showcase. And if you are lucky enough to have stumbled onto Letters after already working through all the rest, than you can bask in the glow of the misconception that you are amongst some lucky few whose devotion to the writer has earned unexpected reward.
For this is a truely stunning piece of work, more elaborate than Vlad's Pale Fire, and more satisfying than anything this side of Pynchon. At his best, Barth had few peers.
John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years.
A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty .
Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...).
Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story.
But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing. Like the age-old games from which his writings spring (the quest/redemption stories of the Iliad and Oddessy, the "doomed" prophet stories of the Old and New Testaments, the mistaken identity games of Shakespeare and thousands of authors since, and the metaphor of story as voyage and voyage as growth from Chaucer, 1001 Nights, etc), Barth plays his games to remind us that the act of story telling *is* the experience, it *is* the reason we read: the experience of hearing ghost stories around the camp fire remains with us long long after we have forgotten the actual story.
And then I remember that, as a reader, I have no more "right" to expect neatness and closure in a Barth story than I have the right to expect neatness and closure in my own life. Try as we might, our own work, our own story is always in progress. And like Barth's beloved Tidewater, the ebb and flow of our own story defies our attempt to capture to master it.
In the end, life and Barth's stories remain as delightfully cleansing as the tide itself.