Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

The stories in the volume Lost in the Funhouse received mixed reviews when they appeared in 1968. This is not to suggest that individual reviewers were ambivalent or undecided about their assessment of the book. Early reviewers either loved it or hated it. Since then the book and its title story have taken their places in American literary history and are widely regarded as among the best of the genre. ‘‘Lost in the Funhouse’’ is frequently anthologized and still offers fresh challenges to readers and critics thirty years after its initial publication.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review in October 1968, Guy Davenport called Barth’s book ‘‘thoroughly confusing,’’ and not ‘‘quite like anything for which we have a name handy.’’ By the end of the review, however, he recognizes what Barth is up to in writing about writing and says that he ‘‘has served his readers as handsomely as the best of storytellers.’’ R. V. Cassill, another early reviewer calls the book ‘‘pure folly’’ and ‘‘blitheringly sophomoric,’’ except for the final story, ‘‘Anonymiad,’’ which he calls ‘‘dazzling.’’ On the other side of the critical divide, Walter Harding says the book’s title story and a few others ‘‘are outstanding . . . [and] have all the verve and hilarity’’ of Barth’s novels.

Several book-length studies of Barth’s work appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, which raised...

(The entire section is 388 words.)