Books: Lost in the Funhouse

LETTERS by John Barth; Putnam; 772 pages; $16.95

Author John Barth, 49, began his career in the guise of a realist with a somewhat spooky sense of humor. The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958) appeared as slim companion pieces; they pivoted on the same philosophical question, i.e., how to impose values on a neutral universe; and both dwelt on despair as a source of grim comedy. But they were also set in a recognizable version of Maryland's Eastern Shore and populated with conventional characters. The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) changed...

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