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The End of the Road
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Gail (gailifer) | 1453 comments I read The End of the Road for my 2018 TBR Challenge. This very short book is very much like a play with only a few characters, a few sets and little plot development until about 3/4's of the way into the book. Although I have read and liked other Barth books, I found myself hating this one. The narrator represents and is portrayed as a person so unable to settle on a personality, an ego or a character that he has at times become catatonic and paralyzed. At one point in the book he is paralyzed by having multiple choices all of which are poor. Our narrator is nevertheless incredibly intelligent and can argue multiple viewpoints and opinions extremely well even though he has no opinions that he really feels or believes in. Our narrator meets a doctor who treats him by telling him to keep acting and by telling him exactly what to do. This doctor is clearly a quack but also is extremely intelligent and seems to be able to effectively motivate our narrator into some action. Our narrator meets a young couple who take him in as a friend because the male member of the couple finds his arguments to be splendid. Joe Morgan, the male side of the couple, is totally convinced that logic, reason, and subjective intelligence can be used to guide all actions and interpersonal relationships. He does not expect others to be convinced by his reasoning but he does believe that he can use it to guide all his own actions. He has totally subjugated his wife's emotions and reasons to his philosophy although he believes that he is doing this because he is promoting her to equal status whereby she can learn honesty and self sufficiency. She is a trembling, crying, personality who believes her husband is God and yet, nevertheless elects to sleep with our narrator. Our narrator does not seem to have made a decision to sleep with her, nor did he feel passion, or lust. He did feel some curiosity.
As I was reading the various philosophical arguments the characters were putting forth, I could tell myself that there was a good reason to have this book be in the 1001 books to read before you die. However, the treatment the women characters in this book receive is so barbaric that I found myself hardly able to finish the book.
Barth is playing a game with his readers with his clever word play. The ending is truly "the end of the road" in many ways and I was thankful to have the book over with.

Diane  | 2050 comments Rating 3.5 stars.

It took me a while to get into this, especially due to the misogyny. It was written in the 1950's, so I reminded myself that this is fairly typical for the time period. The story is about a love triangle between a professor and a couple he befriends. Not much really happens until the latter part of the book, and the story is interspersed with much philosophizing.

Kristel (kristelh) | 4168 comments Mod
Read this in 2015 and not sure why I didn't review it.
Not sure why but now I will. I listened to the short book as an audio. It is the second novel by American writer John Barth, published first in 1958, and then in a revised edition in 1967. It's a dark comedy that is considered a philosophical novel. I read it along with his other list novel, The Floating Opera. This book, continues with the conclusions about absolute values made by the protagonist of The Floating Opera, and takes these ideas "to the end of the road" Jacob Horner suffers from a nihilistic paralysis he calls "cosmopsis"—an inability to choose a course of action from all possibilities. Horner's nameless Doctor has him take a teaching job at a local teachers' college. There Horner befriends the super-rational Joe Morgan and his wife Rennie. The trio become entangled in a love triangle. The story narrates the first-person confession Jacob Horner in the form of a therapeutic psychodrama (a real type of therapy). The novel addresses controversial topics of the time; abortion and racial segregation.

Themes and motifs
1. Choice; where and how to sit, to stay married or not, pregnancy or abortion.
2. bust of Laocoön sculpted by a dead uncle. As Laocoön was bound by serpents, Jake feels himself bound into inaction
3. "cosmopsis" in The End of the Road for a sense of seeing and comprehending all available paths of action and the futility of choosing among them
4. "Mythotherapy" to move Jake beyond his paralysis by giving him arbitrary decision-making principles and having him take on identities by wearing "masks"—assuming roles. He tells Jake "fiction isn't a lie at all, but a true representation of the distortion that everyone makes of life". These distortions—an approach Jake calls "mythoplastic"—people employ to with the arbitrary conditions life thrusts upon them.
5. Both Jake and Joe use their intellects to distance themselves from their emotions
6. Sexual relations:
7. horses; Horse symbols permeate the text. Rennie, an accomplished rider, and her husband whip their heads back and forth horse-like when they laugh. Joe is fond of the epithet horseshit when pointing out nonsense. His surname, Morgan, is the name of an American breed of horse. Joe's consistent sureness, his "rationality and absence of 'craft or guile'", according to Thomas Schaub, seem to echo the Houyhnhnms, the race of rational horses in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

message 4: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Robitaille | 964 comments ***

It could have been a simple story (new teacher befriends colleague and his wife; subsequently has an affair with said wife, and it becomes complicated), but this was made slightly weirder for a few facts: the main protagonist, Jacob Horner, has an inability to make decisions or to have any clear opinions on anythong; he also has a tendency to experience catatonic moments; his colleague, Joe Morgan, is über-rational, lives by his hyper-rational principles and expects others (especially his wife) to live by the same principles. It was interesting in parts, but I got annoyed more than a few times by all the rational arguments and discussions between the characters. I preferred The Floating Opera.

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