Like the NBA-winning Chimera (1972), three linked novellas about sex, heroism and writing.
Having reworked his first novel, The Floating Opera (1956), in several books, Barth returns to his second, The End of the Road (1958), to play variations on the characters in its academic and tragicomic love triangle. “Tell Me” kills off that novel’s sophisticated teacher and panderer, rather than his girlfriend, when he learns she’s pregnant with his friend’s child. “I’ve Been Told: A Story’s Story” extends the life of the novel’s cuckolder, a naif and a would-be hero renamed Phil Blank, into bored middle age and eventual road-side paralysis outside of State College, Pa. “As I Was Saying” is narrated by three elderly sisters who worked their way through college as prostitutes, survived naïve and sophisticated men and inspired books, both a trilogy referred to in their story and Barth’s triptych. Although he mocks biographical criticism, these novellas nevertheless seem an attempt by the wizened and wiser male artist to reverse the conventional fates of fallen women, both his own and others, such as Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina. The spirit is sweet, but Barth continues to test readers with his familiar impediments: extreme narrative self-consciousness, maze-like structures, scarce realistic detail and lots of “inside jokes and allusions.” Although the book is not “pedantical crapola,” as one of its character’s says, it will appeal mostly to Barthophiles who want still more after 16 volumes.
Better titled Where Three Roads Diverge—but do little more than divert.