Sabbatical (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
The premise of John Barth’s new novel, hot on the heels of his large (and largely unread) opus Letters: A Novel (1979), is the premise of a novel. If that sounds tautological and circular, such seems to be Barth’s purpose. The basic ground-situation of Sabbatical, which indeed does have more of a ground-situation than Barth’s last three books, is that of Fenwick Turner and his wife Susan Seckler’s sabbatical cruise on their small boat, Pokey, Wye I., from Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean and back again in order to come to some decisions about their future. The account begins as they near the end of their trip, their backgrounds provided by flashbacks and story interpolations. Their decision-making process, complicated by various problems concerning their families and by Fenn’s past involvement with the CIA, provides enough characters and complications indeed to constitute a traditional novel, but not completely the novel that John Barth has written here.
Sabbatical, which employs many of the conventions of the spy story and many of the conventions of the love story, is primarily, however, about the making of a novel—in fact, about the making of this novel. This is a reflexive game which Barth began playing at least as early as The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), which he pushed a bit further with Giles...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Choice. XX, September, 1982, p. 80.
Christian Century. XCIX, October 13, 1982, p. 1026.
Christian Science Monitor. July 9, 1982, p. 14.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, June 20, 1982, p. 1.
Newsweek. XCIX, May 24, 1982, p. 77.
Saturday Review. IX, June, 1982, p. 67.
Time. CXIX, May 31, 1982, p. 78.
Times Literary Supplement. July 23, 1982, p. 781.
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