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Chance's Take on Books

I'm a novelist who loves to read and discuss all things word-bound.

Currently reading

Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style
Virginia Tufte
The Chicago Manual of Style
John Grossman, Margaret D. Mahan
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Steve Earle
The Sot-Weed Factor - John Barth
“In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke…”

The Sot-Weed Factor hooked me from the first sentence.

John Barth's novel was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Ebenezer Cooke in 1708. The novel itself draws on official archives of Maryland, but its historical account is animated by a whirlpool of imagination.

The plot pivots and twirls with intrigue, counter-intrigue, masquerades, farce and melodrama, and adventure--lots of adventure. The characters are many, but primarily Ebenezer Cooke, his twin sister, Anna, and Henry Burlingame, a complex man of many guises.

The dialogue alone I would award 5 stars--formal, yet hysterically funny, insightful, and often bawdy--I admit to having dialogue envy.

This is a long novel, about 500K words, so it easily suits lots of themes:

The existentialist notions of action, choice, and value.

The lawlessness of early America with its connection to European political conspiracies complicated by a disregard for morality juxtaposition with desires for upper class wealth and prestige.

Coming of age and the development of a coherent sense of self.

Sex and society. (Women's roles, prostitution, rape, incest, buddy love, lust....)

I could go on.

For criticisms, I have 2. First, extensive text of a journal is produced on the page in all manner of glorious misspellings, which made for difficult reading, which amounted to me skimming. Second, the ending epilogues wrapped everything up with a nice little bow, which was anti-climatic and devoid of all the wonderful character and dialogue that made the novel so enjoyable.

That's it. Grand read. I think you'd enjoy it.