Lost in the Funhouse Style and Technique

John Barth

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Problems facing the narrator as storyteller are complex and everywhere expressed. The narrator questions whether thirteen-year-old Ambrose is capable of thinking the thoughts being attributed to him. The narrator discusses plot structure and wonders how in the world the story he is telling can be graphed along Freitag’s Triangle, representing exposition, complication, rising action, climax, and denouement or resolution. The narrator talks about literary symbols and mentions that, for example, diving into a pool would make a suitable symbol. He questions the relevance of the war to the story and inquires of himself whether there should be fireworks. He discusses the use of italics, inverted tags, and first-order and second-order metaphors. He worries over whether he is providing sufficient sensory detail to render the texture of the experience.

At the same time that the narrator discusses these elements of fiction, he puts them to work. For example, in the paragraph in which he discusses the use of italics, he italicizes five passages. When he analyzes the appropriate use of point of view, he points out that the closer authors are to a character, the more they need to distance themselves from that character. Consequently, if the narrator is Ambrose, he would appropriately use the third-person point of view that he does.

Though a description of the contents of “Lost in the Funhouse” suggests a tone of high seriousness, such is not the case at all. The story is based in a series of comic juxtapositions appropriate to the controlling metaphor of the funhouse. In a funhouse, one can get lost in secret mazes and experience fear and panic. Still, the overriding reason one enters a funhouse is to have fun; and a reader knows, if Ambrose does not, that whether the boy grows up to create funhouses or to go through them, he will certainly survive the awkwardness of adolescence.