Lost in the Funhouse

Book cover for 'Lost in the Funhouse'Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice.
203 pages.
Original publisher: Doubleday.
Current publisher: Anchor Press.
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Synopsis

If you study 20th century literature in college, chances are Lost in the Funhouse will make the syllabus (or at least the recommended reading list). Barth started getting really wacky with the short stories in this collection, but what the heck, it was the ’60s. One of these tales (“Menelaiad”) was meant to be read aloud with synchronized looping tape recorders. One (“Night-Sea Journey”) is written from the point of view of a sperm. One (“Frame-tale”) is an endless loop, both the shortest and longest story ever written.

As for subject material, Barth draws upon a mixture of semi-autobiographical material set in his native Maryland (“Ambrose His Mark,” “Lost in the Funhouse”) and classic Greek mythology (“Menelaiad,” “Anonymiad”). The title story is the highlight of the volume; it draws an analogy between a young boy caught in the workings of a carnival funhouse and an author caught in the workings of storytelling itself.

Like Floating Opera, this book received a National Book Award nomination. (The winner was Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day.) These stories (especially the title story) have been widely anthologized.

Contents

  • Frame-tale
  • Night-Sea Journey
  • Ambrose His Mark
  • Autobiography
  • Water-Message
  • Petition
  • Lost in the Funhouse
  • Echo
  • Two Meditations
  • Title
  • Glossolalia
  • Life-Story
  • Menelaiad
  • Anonymiad

Critical Reaction

“Barth can pick literature apart in a narrative, play with it, and finally make restoration just in time for it to accomplish its ancient purposes of amusement and revelation.”

The New Republic

“Enormous vitality and virtuosity… taken together, as Barth urges they should be, these fictions interreact to produce a series of constantly changing and enticingly illusive forms… Barth’s cunning is to turn daily life into mythology while turning mythology into domestic comedy… Many things can happen in John Barth’s funhouse, but getting lost is not likely to be one of them.”

Time

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