Picks and Pans Review: The Tidewater Tales

updated 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Barth

The man has gone mad over stories, packing almost 700 pages of them into this book. Old ones by Homer, Cervantes, Mark Twain and Scheherazade are retold with asides and explanations by Barth's characters. The main character, Peter Sagamore, is a writer. His first novel was a big fat book, but as the years passed he began polishing and editing his prose until his last story, which no one will publish, is "B." That's both the title and, in its entirety, the story. Sagamore and his wellborn wife, Katherine, are expecting twins. As the book opens, they are off the coast of Maryland on his sailboat—named Story—and a bad storm is brewing. She is about to give birth. At the end of the book, she delivers. In between, the reader is told many stories from the Sagamores' lives and the lives of their families and co-workers. The Soviets want to buy some land that belongs to Kate's old prep school, and the CIA wants them to have it to make spying easy. There are some rotten guys, who are taken care of in a plane crash. "I don't like an unfinished story any more than you do," one character says. Every page brims with events, descriptions of glorious food and drink and wordplay. ("This is some womb, all right. Womb service even. Sorry, hon.") Barth, the author of The Sot-Weed Factor, Giles Goat-Boy and other fictions, has never been more relaxed. If things seem incoherent at times, that's perfectly fine because Barth is having so much fun. Clearly, he wants us to enjoy this exuberant tale telling. We did. (Putnam's, $21.95)

From Our Partners