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Sabbatical: A Romance (American Literature Series) Paperback – 25 Sep 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1st Dalkey Archive Ed edition (25 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564780961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564780966
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,963,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Barth has proved again and again that he can equal the traditionalists at their own game, and thus he has won the right to be different." -- Saturday Review "Barth, almost alone among his fellows, will have none of the bloodless abstractions. Among his many styles, what is most distinctive is his toughness, the quick march of his verbs, his reliance on muscular Anglo-Saxon locutions, his puns." -- Washington Post "The best writer of fiction in America." -- New York Times

About the Author

John Simmons Barth (born May 27, 1930) is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Nov 1996
Format: Paperback
Sailing up the chesapeake bay. John Barth brings us sailing once again, this time with the tale of married ex CIA-and-deeper-operative-turned-tell-almost-all-expose-writer Fenwick (descendant of Francis Scott Key) and literary prof Susan (descendant of Edgar Allen Poe), aboard their ship Pokey, while they wrestle with all of the things that can come between the introduction of the gun in Act I and its being fired in Act III, between the act and its resolution, things like birth, death, loyalty, rambunctious nephews, seamonsters. There are common themes here, sure, but for this reader, Barth's talent ensures that the style transcends gimmick. The story never gets too horribly muckied up while he plays around. In fact, sometimes his bold this-is-what-i'm-going-to-make-happen-next-and-this-is-why entrances/intrusions actually increase our appreciation/wonder for his craft. The man is telling you flat out how he plans to manipulate your senses of awe and delight, and thus warned, you're still blown away when he actually goes ahead and does it. Barth is an uncommon magician, in that he has no secrets, and yet he is no less magical.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 July 1996
Format: Paperback
I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations.

John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years.
A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty .

Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...).

Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story.
But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing.
Read more ›
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 Aug 1997
Format: Paperback
I loved "Tidewater Tales" and was enormously impressed so went looking for other John Barth books and found "Sabbitical". The names are different but the story (or one of the stories) and I still enjoyed it. However I was hoping to find something from the author explaining why write "Sabbitical" first and then retell the tale as part of "Tidewater Tales", although I now know why the Talbots boat is called "Reprise".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Sailing up the chesapeake, sailing up the chesapeake, 21 Nov 1996
By Robert S Michaels - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Sailing up the chesapeake bay. John Barth brings us sailing once again, this time with the tale of married ex CIA-and-deeper-operative-turned-tell-almost-all-expose-writer Fenwick (descendant of Francis Scott Key) and literary prof Susan (descendant of Edgar Allen Poe), aboard their ship Pokey, while they wrestle with all of the things that can come between the introduction of the gun in Act I and its being fired in Act III, between the act and its resolution, things like birth, death, loyalty, rambunctious nephews, seamonsters. There are common themes here, sure, but for this reader, Barth's talent ensures that the style transcends gimmick. The story never gets too horribly muckied up while he plays around. In fact, sometimes his bold this-is-what-i'm-going-to-make-happen-next-and-this-is-why entrances/intrusions actually increase our appreciation/wonder for his craft. The man is telling you flat out how he plans to manipulate your senses of awe and delight, and thus warned, you're still blown away when he actually goes ahead and does it. Barth is an uncommon magician, in that he has no secrets, and yet he is no less magical
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Like the tide, Barth's stories cleanse and refresh us 11 July 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations.

John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years.
A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty .

Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...).

Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story.
But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing. Like the age-old games from which his writings spring (the quest/redemption stories of the Iliad and Oddessy, the "doomed" prophet stories of the Old and New Testaments, the mistaken identity games of Shakespeare and thousands of authors since, and the metaphor of story as voyage and voyage as growth from Chaucer, 1001 Nights, etc), Barth plays his games to remind us that the act of story telling *is* the experience, it *is* the reason we read: the experience of hearing ghost stories around the camp fire remains with us long long after we have forgotten the actual story.
And then I remember that, as a reader, I have no more "right" to expect neatness and closure in a Barth story than I have the right to expect neatness and closure in my own life. Try as we might, our own work, our own story is always in progress. And like Barth's beloved Tidewater, the ebb and flow of our own story defies our attempt to capture to master it.
In the end, life and Barth's stories remain as delightfully cleansing as the tide itself.
KRH [...]
. . .AND the kitchen sink. 16 May 2013
By David R. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This not one of those less is more books, nor is it a more is more book, it is a more is much too much book. Told in the authorial first person, each of the two main characters take turns carrying the voice, and debating with each other about what goes into the book and what stays out. Nearly everything goes in with one often violated exception: the female voice insists that there will be "no effing effings in our story" or, to use the technical term as Barth does, no "turpiloquence."

While the male narrator places their story in the 4000 year-old tradition of sea voyage fiction (think the "Shipwrecked Sailor" from the Egyptian papyrus era to Melville and Conrad), it is, in fact, not much more than a rambling story about the hazards of sailing on Chesapeake bay on the late summer afternoons when violent thunderstorms are likely to mangle sail and sailor.

The book, first published in 1982, focuses on Central Intelligence Agency excesses involving the narrator and several members of his immediate family. The description of these matters draws exhaustively on contemporary news reports and other documents. Since, apparently, the CIA maintained several safe houses in those days on the more remote islands of Chesapeake Bay, the "Company's" heavy hand always seems poised to strike and, where necessary, kill.

As you might expect in a "romance" -- see the full title -- Barth juices up the novel with hearty dollops of marital and extramarital sex. This make for good reading even when it seems more fantasy than fact. The book is feminist, liberal and literate in tone and very knowledgeable about the Bay and the Baltimore-Washington scene. But because Barth loads it up with so much extraneous material, it is a bit of a slog.

End note. John Barth turns 83 later this month (May 27). His most recent work, "The Development," is collection of short stories about the aging residents of a gated community. Like many of his other books, including "Sabbatical", it is set in the Tidewater area where Barth was born and grew up. No question about it. He knows the territory.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Ebbs and Wanes 16 Mar 2007
By Yan Timanovsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A newspaper article mentioned Barth in passing and a used book rack supplied Sabbatical. It's hard to draw reference points for Barth with Sabbatical, but it I suppose a nautically-minded, Cold War-centric Umberto Eco is the best I can do. The book is firmly fixed in the pantheon of post-modern metafiction, that much is certain.

The story (if there is one) follows the (mostly) sailing adventures of Susan Fenwick Turner and Susan Seckler, a comfortably bourgeois writer-turned CIA operative turned writer, and an uncomfortably elite writing professor (professors writing about professors, so it goes), descendant from F. Scott Key and Edgar Allan Poe, respectively. Barth's story is crammed with metaphors and allusions so thick they literally make your head bulge while you're trying to follow the story. At times impressive in breadth, there's not always a matching depth, and, I suspect, many go ignored by those of us lacking Ph.D.s in literary theory and semiotics. Barth is more interested in viewing life through a seafaring lens than spinning a yarn, though several back-stories concerning bikers, rape, Vietnamese poetry, Iranian intelligence, CIA, Latin American intrigue, and identity politics seep in and take form.

Heavy-handed metaphors overwhelm the enthusiastic Barth reader--upstream, downtream, sperm and ova, etc. The excessive self-referential footnoting, while appreciated and edifying, soon becomes intrusive and tiring. Where is Barth going? What is his point? I'm pretty sure it's somewhere at the bottom of the sea, along with the many mysteries in Fenwick's life. Still, at the rather exciting start, and other points throughout the book, complemented by his thoroughly confident seaman's narrative, Barth fascinates and inspires.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I don't get it 2 Aug 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I loved "Tidewater Tales" and was enormously impressed so went looking for other John Barth books and found "Sabbitical". The names are different but the story (or one of the stories) and I still enjoyed it. However I was hoping to find something from the author explaining why write "Sabbitical" first and then retell the tale as part of "Tidewater Tales", although I now know why the Talbots boat is called "Reprise"
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