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On with the Story: Stories

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  199 ratings  ·  17 reviews
John Barth has the paradoxical ability to turn literature on its head in a post-modern sense at the same time he employs a tour-de-force of traditional literary devices. In On with the Story, he tells a story within a story within a collection of short stories. To wit, an affluent and sophisticated retirement age couple is on vacation when the woman receives terrible news ...more
Hardcover, 257 pages
Published July 1st 1996 by Little Brown and Company (first published 1996)
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Somehow I stumbled upon this book at a library sale back in 1996. My first encounter with meta-fiction. 10 years later I finally got around to reading Barth's Sot-Weed Factor and subsequently blew through his entire life's work. Barth is a novelist of Smart Fat Tomes, foremost, but his short stories are an easy way to get a glimpse into what he's about.
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After writing his famous door-stopper novels in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Barth has returned to the short-story format with great success. Most of these stories were previously published in magazines, and as with all such collections, there are some repeated themes and ideas, but Barth handles this in a really lovely way. He frames the collection as the 12 stories an older couple tell each other near the end of their lives - one tale for each of the 12 nights of the last vacation they will take ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's John Barth. It's more about how stories can work than it is the actual story, but there's still a story involved, and it's a good story that you have to piece together as you go. I thought this was a collection of short stories, but it's more of a series of stories within stories, but like I said, it's Barth.
Chris McCracken
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There should be a six-star rating, seven, fifty-nine. I couldn't stop last night. Postmodern stuff is sometimes so cold -- all theory and no heart. This is just what I've been waiting for. I can tell this is going to go down as one of my all-time favorites.
Christopher Sutch
Jul 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Doesn't quite have the panache or intensity of _Lost in the Funhouse_, and some of the stories fall flat. But the narrative frame is interesting, there's lots of interesting stuff about quantum mechanics, and some of the stories still have that Barth flair to them.
Made it to p. 205/257 and decided I needed to get on with my life ...
i like barth a lot and i thought this book was going to be like my two favorites by him (chimera and tidewater tails). and it was but ... by the middle of the book the two plots just keep repeating and it got tedious and kind if depressing. so i stopped reading.
Jesse Farmer
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best Barth Ive ever read. Touching beyond words. Endlessly creative. The kind of book you can give to both your favorite jaded pomo enthusiast, and your mom. ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: could-not-finish
Post-modernism should be a crime. This was horrible.
Jul 30, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book less than On With The Story, by John Barth. You know it's not a good sign when you start a review that way. For a short book (257pp), it has taken me months to complete. Now to be fair, I'm not a big fan of short stories, but I'm willing to give them a chance.

The premise of this collection of short stories is that a married couple is on vacation or something, and is telling each other (or one is telling the other) a bunch of stories to pass the time
Cooper Cooper
In this book of stories postmodernist Barth parades his obsessions: life as a story, the story-within-the-story-within-the-story (à la Scheherazade), narrative technique, and contemporary science (especially quantum theory, Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle, chaos theory and Mandelbrot fractals). A longtime Johns Hopkins professor of creative writing, Barth knows how to write action, exposition, dialogue, etc., but to my mind he overintellectualizes: presqueezes the juice so theres little left ...more
Mike Ingram
Jul 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason I'd always had something of a John Barth mental block. I'm not sure why, but I thought of him as a writer I would probably appreciate on an intellectual level but not really enjoy reading. I think I maybe lumped him in with some other postmodernist American writers who fit that bill, whose work felt like academic arguments in need of actual story.

Cut to: Me actually reading this book, and liking it. Yes, there's metafictional gamesmanship, but I found the book's arguments about
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book in segments, as the hashing of dialogue can get disorienting. The increasingly heavy knowledge that the end is imminent (of the book, of the story, of the storyline, of the character's lifeline) made for a delectably-paced, though tragic, tale. The tragedy is also the beauty, however as Barth tackles the reality of our limited time on Earth, interspersing the story-lines with parallels of the the cyclical nature of the universe wholly. In this story of stories, Barth ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully sad collection of stories. Hardly a gimmicky post-modern construct, the interwovenness of the tales here, combined with the brief framing sections, is intricate, expertly constructed, and engrossing. Even the sadness of endings and rapidly-approaching tragedies woven into most narratives only add to the gorgeousness. One of the best pieces of Barth's work I've read, for sure.
I'll be honest . . . I didn't finish this collection, even though at first I was intrigued by the analysis of the emotional-minutiae-of-a-moment method. I thought that brief purgatory between calm and grief that Barth explores was beautifully written, but I just couldn't read a series-worth in that style.
mimosa maoist
Jun 21, 2016 added it
Shelves: fiction
Kind of like domesticated postmodernism.
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John Simmons Barth is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard before attending Johns Hopkins University, receiving a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952 (for which he wrote a thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus).

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