Where Three Roads Meet: Novellas (.)

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9780618610167: Where Three Roads Meet: Novellas (.)

From the acclaimed John Barth, "one of the greatest novelists of our time" (Washington Post Book World) and "a master of language" (Chicago Sun-Times), comes a lively triad of tales that delight in the many possibilities of language and its users.

The first novella, "Tell Me," explores a callow undergraduate's initiation into the mysteries of sex, death, and the Heroic Cycle. The second novella, "I've Been Told," traces no less than the history of storytelling and examines innocence and modernity, ignorance and self-consciousness. And the three elderly sisters of the third novella, "As I Was Saying . . . ," record an oral history of their youthful muse-like services to (and servicings of) a subsequently notorious and now mysteriously vanished novelist.

Sexy, humorous, and brimming with Barth's deep intelligence and playful irreverence, Where Three Roads Meet will surely delight loyal fans and draw new ones.

John Barth is the author of numerous works of fiction, including The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Lost in the Funhouse, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, the National Book Award winner Chimera, and most recently The Book of Ten Nights and a Night. He taught for many years in the writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

"Teller, tale, torrid . . . inspiration: Barth's seventeenth book brings these three narrative 'roads' together inimitably, and thrice. [Where Three Roads Meet] employs all of his familiar devices -- alliteration, shifts in diction and time, puns -- to tease and titillate, while at the same time articulate -- obliquely, sadly, angrily, gloriously -- a farewell to language and its objects: us." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

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About the Author:

JOHN BARTH’s fiction has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. For many years he taught in the writing seminars at John Hopkins University. He is the author of such seminal works as The Sot-Weed Factor, Chimera (for which he won the NBA), and Giles Goat-Boy.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

If and when he ever gets his narrative shit together, Will Chase might tell the Story of the Three Freds more or less like this freely changing names, roles, settings, and any other elements large or small as his by-then-more- seasoned muse sees fit, neither to protect the innocent nor to shield the blamable, but simply to make the tale more tellworthy:

1. THE CALL

Mid-spring mid-morning in mid-twentieth-century USA in the mid-Atlantic- coast state of Maryland, to be exact, and even in mid-sentence, as our then young and recently interrupted narrator made to resume his anecdote-in- progress by saying to his apartment-mates, As I was saying, guys” their telephone rang again.
Your turn,” his friend Al said to their friend Winnie: a standing joke between that latter pair (although both were in fact seated, on their hand- me-down couch in their grad-student apartment in the university’s high-rise Briarwood Residences, just off campus), inasmuch as in those days before phone-answering machines, Winnie, Al’s girlfriend, took all their calls, for reasons presently to be explained, and thus had taken the previously interruptive one (wrong number) a few minutes before. With a roll of her eyes she reached again for the phone one of those black rotary-dial jobs, standard issue back then on the hand-me-down end table next to which she customarily sat, when reading or chatting, for just that purpose.
Hello?” If this were a story and you were its narrator,” Alfred Baumann advised Wilfred Chase while Winifred Stark attended the caller, you could stop the action right here and get some capital-E Exposition done: like who the Three Freds are and what they’re doing here; what the capital-C Conflict is; what’s At Stake for whichever of us is the Protagonist, and why Win takes all our calls in Briarwood Three-oh- four . . .” Roger wilco, old buddy, as even callow nonveterans like themselves sometimes said in those postwar days: military radio- communications lingo for Got your message and will comply. Post World War Two is the when of this story, although the nation’s brief peaceful respite after V-J Day 1945 would end in 1950 with North Korea’s invasion of South and the American-run UN police action” to contain that invasion.
Excuse Narrator if you knew all that, Reader: It matters because this story’s where is the campus environs of a major university a campus swarming, as were all such in the USA back then, with veterans of that previous war, their educations subsidized by the GI Bill of Rights. At all-male institutions such as this was in those days, the undergraduate student body was thus divided into somewhat older, more life-experienced, and now draft- exempt World War Two vets, many of them married, and younger, greener, soon-to- be-draft-vulnerable hands like the then Will Chase and his only slightly older best friend and mentor, Al Baumann.
Greener, yes, in that neither Al nor Will had shared their war- veteran classmates’ transformative experience of military service, not to mention actual combat. But green comes in shades, and in every other respect Al was so much the savvier that as of this telling Narrator still shakes his head at that pair’s friendship, wondering what on earth Al B. found interesting in Will C.; what he got from a connection so clearly beneficial to his protégé. Born and raised in one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods as the only child of well-to-do parents, his dad a professor of oncology at the university’s medical school, Alfred Baumann had been educated K 12 (as they say nowadays but did not then) at private day schools whose graduates routinely matriculated in the Ivy League. At puberty he discovered in himself a passion for the arts and for academic scholarship; decided by his junior prep-school year that he’d be a poet, a professor of literature or maybe of art history, and on the side a jazz pianist, although he knew his way around classical guitar and string bass as well. Enrolled in the comparably prestigious but decidedly less classy VVLU instead of Harvard/ Yale/Princeton, because it offered an experimental program wherein selected students could on their adviser’s recommendation become virtual Ph.D. candidates early in their undergraduate careers, commence supervised original re- search in their chosen disciplines, and complete their doctorates as early as five years after matriculation. Al was, moreover, no stranger to the capitals of Europe and elsewhere, the Baumanns having often vacationed abroad before and after the war as well as having gone with Doctor Dad to oncological conferences in sundry foreign venues whence their son had acquired what to friend Will, at least, was an enviable familiarity with places and languages, wines and cuisines, and the ways of the world, including self- confidence with the opposite sex: a sophisticccccation the more impressive because worn lightly, even self-deprecatingly.
Trivia,” Al liked to say about such casually imparted but attentively received life lessons as that slope-shouldered red-wine bottles contain Burgundies and round-shouldered ones Bordeaux, the former to be enjoyed promptly and the latter laid down” some years to mature; that both kinds need to breathe” awhile after opening before being drunk (except for Châteauneuf-du-Pape); that provolone has four syllables, not three; that making circles with one’s thumbs and forefingers is a handy reminder that one’s bread plate on a restaurant table is the one at one’s left hand (small b”) and one’s drinking glass the one at one’s right (small d”): It’s what’s here, here, and here that matters,” indicating in turn his or Will’s (or Winnie’s) head, heart, and crotch. But from whom if not gentle (slope- shouldered, indeed Chianti-bottle-shaped) Al Baumann did Will learn how to tie a full-Windsor necktie knot, navigate the city’s bus and trolley lines, successfully hail a cruising taxicab and compute the driver’s tip, play sambas and rhumbas and kazatskies and frailichs as the occasion warranted in addition to their new jazz trio’s usual repertory? Not to mention what one learned from him in the classroom, as one’s junior instructor in Literature & Philosophy I & II, about Homer and Virgil (and Sappho and Petronius and Catullus), Plato and Aristotle (and the Gnostics and the Kabbalists), Dante and Chaucer and Boccaccio (and Scheherazade and Somadeva, Poggio and Aretino and Rabelais), and other classics on (and off) one’s freshman/sophomore syllabus, up to and including James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Finnegans Wake) . . .
And trivia, class, as you may have heard, comes from Latin trivium: literally, a place where three roads intersect as in Sophocles? but by extension any public square where people swap idle gossip.” The Trivium was also (he went on) the medieval division of the seven liberal arts into Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric not to be confused with Cambridge University’s tripos, which was a different story altogether: Okay?” If you say so, Teach. And so indeed Al said, back then back there, in class and out all which curricular and extracurricular input Will Chase eagerly downloaded,” as one might put it three decades later, his own background having been a different story indeed from Alfred Baumann’s: Depression-era child of minimally schooled though by no means unintelligent small-town storekeepers in the state’s least affluent county; graduate of a wartime local public school system so strapped for funds and faculty that its eleventh grade was perforce one’s senior year, whence nearly none of the seventeen-year-old diplomates went off” to college especially if they’d been lucky enough to escape military service and thus unlucky enough to have no GI Bill to subsidize a higher education that, as a group, they weren’t competitive for admission to anyhow. A few of the girls managed nursing school, secretarial school, or the nearby teachers college; most became store clerks, telephone operators, beauticians, or/and young housewives and mothers. Most of the boys found jobs in local offices and retail stores or became tradesmen, farmers, or crab-and-oyster watermen like their dads before them. A few enlisted in the peacetime military.
And a handful shrug-shoulderedly took the application exam one spring afternoon for senatorial” scholarships (whereof every Annapolis legislator was allotted a few to award and then to renew or redistribute annually) to various colleges and universities in the Old Line State. Having so done, the applicants proceeded to their summer employment fully expecting that at season’s end it would become their real employment: their life’s work.
Which, however, in Will Chase’s case and that of a few others in his (all-white) graduating class, it did not. Since junior high school or upper elementary,” as sixth and seventh grades were called in that abbreviated system the lad had made an avid, if noisy, hobby of jazz percussion, and with comparably amateur-but-dedicated classmates on piano, trombone, and alto saxophone had formed a combo to play weekend dances at the local yacht and country club. In the spring of their senior” year thanks to the sax- man’s father’s business connection with a club member who had further connections up and down Maryland’s Eastern Shore, they auditioned for and by golly won the best summer job any of them could imagine: At a fading old steamboat-era resort on the upper Chesapeake, still visited in season by daily excursion boats from Baltimore, the quartet would play two hours of dance music in the waterfront dance hall every afternoon while the boat was in and three hours more every evening for vacationers-in-residence, in return for a modest salary and free lodging in a storeroom-turned-bunkhouse at the end of the club’s pier. Better yet, on Saturdays the oddly instrumented foursome was to expand to a small orchestra: three saxes (their alto plus two tenors or maybe even a baritone, if they could find one), three brass (the trombonist-leader plus two trumpets, if they could be found), and three rhythm (pianist and drummer plus a bassist, if et cetera). Swing-band-type lighted music stands; uniforms (broad-shouldered lapelless jackets and slightly pegged pants were hep” just then, also black knit neckties and black- plastic- framed eyeglasses, whether one needed them or not); upgraded (secondhand) Zildjian cymbals and Slingerland drums! Instead of the combo’s one-volume fake-book of the melody lines and chord progressions of all the standards, and their improvised head arrangements” of whatever was current or recent on the Hit Parade, they would have a veritable library of store- bought stock arrangements with separately printed parts for every instrument plus any specials” that might be scored by whoever in the group had sufficient interest and ability in the orchestration way.
Which Whoever turned out, if mainly by default, to be Will Chase. Although he’d had no musical training beyond the half-dozen years of piano lessons that most youngsters took in those days, he had learned from them some basics of theory and harmony as well as how to read music, and from his combo-comrades something of the ranges and peculiarities of their instruments. All hands were, moreover, rapt listeners to the exciting new progressive-jazz recordings of Stan Kenton, arranged by Pete Rugolo; to Billy Strayhorn’s sophisticated arrangements for Duke Ellington; and to Sy Oliver’s for Tommy Dorsey. And so while his buddies expanded and numbered the library, acquired the dressy music stands and the group’s first-ever sound system (as primitive by later, rock-era standards as a manual typewriter in the age of desktop computers), and scrambled for the weekend supplement of sidemen and for manageable rehearsal times and venues, Will set about earnestly trying his hand not at composition, for which he knew himself to have no gift, but at transforming by reorchestration some existing, preferably familiar melody into something new, an attention- getting showcase for the band. So enamored of and engrossed in this novel activity of arranging did he become in the spring of that year, and even more so when the expanded orchestra was actually recruited, rehearsed, and swinging on summer Saturday nights at the Bohemia Beach Club, that he dared to imagine as he never would have about his at best- adequate instrumental ability that here might be his vocation: his true calling.
But it wasn’t, quite,” Narrator hears the tutelary spirit of Al Baumann interrupt this extended interruption-of-an-interruption to declare, and so when the Bohemia gig runs its course in late August and our webfoot Wilfred wonders what to do with himself next, he takes his bass player’s advice and the scholarship he claims to’ve forgotten he’d applied for, and he climbs out of his down-county tidemarshes like a wide-eyed, wet- behind-the-ears amphibian and crosses the Bay to join me at VVLU and there they-all sit at the present time of this so-called story, interrupted by that second phone call, but you’ve been nattering on so about the Hicksville school system et cet that you haven’t even gotten yet to the Three Freds’ ménage r deux et un peu, and Lou Levy’s Cheatery, and why Winnie used to take all our phone calls at Briarwood Three-oh-four. Your Tutelary Spirit suggests you save all this Arranger stuff for a memoir somewhere down the road and get on with our made-up story: Win can’t keep Levy on hold forever.” Roger wilco, old buddy after establishing (a) that this six-hours-a- day, six-days-a-week band gig (Mondays off) taught Will Chase unequivocally that his orchestration, like his percussion, was after all no more than a better- than-average amateur flair, not a pre-professional talent; also (b) that the search for those additional Saturday-night sidemen turned up a few college types from Baltimore who commuted to the job by excursion boat and stayed overnight in the club storeroom with the combo among them the pianist- turned-bassist Alfred Baumann from what we’re calling Veritas Vos Liberabit University, that being its motto, and his Goucher College girlfriend Winifred Stark, a Library Science major and Music minor (commuting downtown to her keyboard lessons at the Peabody Institute) every bit as able on piano as was her versatile boyfriend, or for that matter the group’s regular ivory-tickler, who therefore happily took weekends off, as the other sidemen could not.
And (c), as has been intimated, that it was Will Chase’s fortuitous acquaintance with said bassist (the first he’d ever worked with, and what a difference in the band’s beat, and how much one learned from him on the job, about everything from leaving the basic four-to-the-bar mainly to him and using one’s bass drum more for accents, to pushing one’s already-thinning hair into a fifties-style pompadour!) that persuaded him, not to abandon music, but to set aside career ambitions in that line and give college a try instead, at least for his scholarship year. He remains much obliged to this hour, long-gone Al-pal, for that suggestion.
Well: My suggestion, as you call it, was that after that shall-we- say Bohemian summer, Will Chase would be a fucking idiot to go back to his dear damp Marshville instead of giving big-city academia a try. That he had a better shot at quote Finding Himself, whoever that might be, in a VVLU seminar room across the Bay than in his folks’ ma-and-pa drugstore. Besides which, Win and I needed a drummer for the new club-style trio that we had in mind but hadn’t named yet, and given our three first names, the choice was a no-brainer, as they say nowadays but didn’t back then. So introduce us to the Reader already, okay? Something more than that résumé stuff a few pages ago?” Narrator’s pleasure, if Will Chase ever finds his voice.
Meet Al Baumann, Reader: twenty-one years old at the time here tol...

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