switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons

Every Third Thought by John Barth
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it was ok

I'm no Barth scholar, but ten years ago, I was charmed and touched by his rambling postmodern The Floating Opera, a book he wrote in the mid-twentieth century. Like Pynchon and Kafka, he was ahead of his time. His meta-fiction wasn't just for show and self-indulgence; the wink-wink and digressing were salient to the themes, and showcased the sophistry of righteous absolutes (and its contradictions). It was an intellectual frolic into the act of writing itself, with a tender touch of comic genius.

His latest and slim novel is also a linguistic romp, and resurrects some familiar subjects/settings, such as a love triangle, prostate troubles, and his beloved Eastern Shore of Maryland, specifically Stratford. Retired professor G.I. Newitt experiences some strange catastrophic flukes associated with a series of visions. He is subsequently inspired to chronicle these seasonal occurrences and phenomena, such as a "post-equinoctial vision" and a "solstitial illumination." The latest casualties include a tornado that wiped out the retirement community that he lived in with his wife (and muse), Amanda, and a fall on his 77th birthday in another Stratford--the one particular to the Bard. Newitt's efforts to pen his memoir is the central event, and he shares every daily outburst of desultory thought with Amanda.

I am surprised that this is the same author who wrote The Floating Opera. There was nothing here to tantalize beyond some lexical stretching. The narrative was self-conscious and obvious, like the protagonist's name. (G.I. Newitt is as blunt and prosaic as Seymour Butts.) The events, and the telling of them, were repetitive and dull, the narrative style antiquated and stilted. The most inspired was the title's allusion to Prospero's lines in The Tempest.

It read like Barth just showed up for practice, much like the gasbag Newitt, and was compelled to cough up all the topical issues of the day--the war, the Bush administration, the government's failure during natural disasters. But it was arid and lusterless; notions stuck to the page like Teflon, a reiteration of the mundane. It managed to be both capricious and monotonous. It was ostensibly about aging and mortality, but it was derivative, uninspired. Pithy scribbles and warm-ups weren't enough to support a gimmicky, stale story.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 18, 2011 – Finished Reading
December 21, 2011 – Shelved

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