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Customer Review

on January 10, 2000
This true American masterpiece is written like a 17th century literary novel. The style could well be Fielding, except that Barth is even more hilarious.At a time when minimalist novelists seem to be in vogue, I revelled in the intelligent richness of the elaborate quixotic tale woven by Barth. When a novelist can write as well as peers like Saul Bellow or V.S. Naipaul, then a maximalist style like Barth's is to be savoured. Poor chaste poet laureate, Ebenezer Cooke, encounters harsh reality at every turn, including capture by pirates and Indians. His dreams drive him to ridiculous ends where his ambitions are constantly confounded by greater existential powers. "The road to Heaven's beset with thistles, and methinks there's many a cowpat on't." The dialogue is delicious and well-constructed with an authenticity and wit and bawdy truth. You have to marvel at the construction of such credible characters as Joan Toast, Bertrand, Boabdil, Andrew, Pocahontas and the pirate captain. Barth's dialogue on various letters of the alphabet, the trading of ancient insults and the scene where Ebenezer fears drowning in Chesapeake Bay were uproariously funny. Barth obviously knows the Eastern Shore near the Choptank River intimately: it's a lovely setting for his novel. For any true lover of great American literary novels, The Sotweed Factor should be on your must-read list.
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