No American writer under forty is as lavishly admired as John Barth. His two major novels, The Sot-Weed Factor, a parody of the historical romance, and Giles Goat-Boy, comic variations on technology and scientific myth, are extraordinary displays of linguistic invention, bubbly ideas, and compelling evocations of classic and contemporary absurdity. Barth can do everything except create characters or a psychological terrain capable of truly drawing the reader into his intricate designs. He is a gold mine of erudition and elliptical symbols, both used to generate a sort of nihilistic laughter which is best understood or enjoyed over a long span, virtuoso arias requiring a far-ranging ritualistic atmosphere to succeed. Thus he is not at his best in this uneven and randomly connected collection of short stories. A number of the pieces seem to be failed excursions on philosophical themes which have perhaps been excised from longer works, while others are modishly experimental, such as the cacophonous "Glossolalia," or "Frame-Tale," which "is one-, two-, or three-dimensional, whichever one regards a Moebius strip as being." "Menelaiad" and "Anonymiad," presenting Trojan War hi-jinks in mock-heroic detail are imaginative and witty stylistic advertisements which tend, nevertheless, to become slighter and emptier with each passing page. The title-story, a surprisingly fairly conventional memory of the adolescent id. is quite fine, even moving in its sprightly way, and should, unlike the others, stand the lest of time.