October 27, 2003

The Novelists of Coming Soon!!!

I was looking through some reviews of Barth's Coming Soon!!! and came across the following in a review from "Publisher's Weekly":

"Unfortunately, the display of metafictional conceits that subtends the novel does not make up for clunky writing and uninspired characters. Hop Johnson, the Novelist Aspirant, seems to write, think and talk just like the Novelist Emeritus, which subtracts from the internecine authorial quarrel that is this novel's main interest. There is much gap filling (for example, we are given condensed reports of the news, from 1995 to 1999), and for large stretches the enterprise is seemingly propelled mainly by the need to fill pages with words. Readers are advised to turn to the original Floating Opera and leave this massy addendum to Barth's academic acolytes."

This was only one among many negative reviews of the book. What interests me besides the pure joy of criticism and book-bashing is what the reviewer says about the two narrators. Here is a question to think about as we continue reading the book:

Does the Novelist Aspirant really write like the Novelist Emeritus? Does this tell us anything about who comes up on top in terms of Barth's scheme of values? Does the similarity between their styles (if you all see it this way) suggest that only one is the "real" author of the book? Is the "internecine authorial quarrel" really at the center of the book or (unlike Hop Johnson) do we see a continuity between p-fiction, e-fiction, and (eventually) Virtual Reality (see page 14 for more on this)?

If you are all interested in a few more review blurbs (including a portion of the "Publisher's Weekly" review above), there are some here.

Posted by pjagoda at October 27, 2003 03:45 PM

Forgive me while I avoid your good questions for the moment and just comment that it's a strange experience reading such super-contemporary literature in class. Since contemporary novels are still so caught up in the book-review process that follows their publications, it's a lot easier to slip into aesthetic judgments of a novel's sucess or failure while we discuss the book. Compare this to, say, studying a Henry James novel, when, thanks to its comfy status in the Canon, complaints about clunky writing and uninspired characters hardly ever arise. (Not that dear HJ would ever be guilty of that of course!!) If something about a canonized novel's writing or plot is problematic, the discussions in class almost invariably take more of a "what effect does this have, and what does it say about said novelist's project in general" critical approach.

Anyway, I like that you've taken those book-review criticisms and turned them into a new way of looking at the novel from our analytical perspectives. But then again, we are Barth's academic acolytes ourselves, so what else would we do? ...

Posted by: Audre at October 27, 2003 06:44 PM | Permalink to Comment