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The Tidewater Talesby John Barth
Synopses & Reviews
"TELL ME A STORY!" is the task Katherine Shorter Sherritt Sagamore sets for her husband, Peter Sagamore, as they set out to cruise Chesapeake Bay in their engineless Sailboat, Story. And he does tell, and then she tells, and we, lucky readers, are along for the ride. "Very likely," says Peter Prescott in Newsweek, "John Barth is the most brilliant American novelist now at work." Now this masterful storyteller writes his most masterful story: a funny, sexy, troubling novel about storytelling. KSS, 8 1/2 months pregnant, is a blue-blooded library scientist and founding mother of the American Society for the Preservation of Storytelling — ASPS. PS, 8 1/2 months nervous, is a blue collar storyteller with a penchant for brevity that has led him to produce as his latest work a story consisting of not more than its title: "B." They are telling stories to break the writer's block handed PS by his Muse, to ease the weight of KSS's pregnancy, to entertain and enlighten. They sail to escape the pressure all this doing is causing.
These stories tell us where Odysseus sails today and how Scheherazade has kept the spice in her thousand-year marriage; they introduce us to a crusty old boatsman known as Donald Quicksoat, to Carla B Silver, tavern owner and fortune-teller, to the mixed bag of Sherritts, a couple of Doomsday Factors, and many more.
Along with the stories of these folks, we learn the story of the Bay itself — past and present. The beloved Chesapeake, where young Peter once indulged his Huck Finn fantasy, is in danger of becoming what he dubs a moral cesspool, where one might bump into any manner of garbage, from a murdered spy to Mafia-dumped toxic wastes; where nature is in a losing struggle with man; where the hallowed Deniston School for Girls is being pressured to sell land to the Soviet embassy so the CIA can spy on it; and where the old Sagamore homestead might or might not be the newest espionage station on the shoreline.
The Tidewater Tales: A Novel is a rollicking, fun-filled but sobering look at people and their stories. For, as brave Peter so puts it: "The end whereto one is fetched into the parlous world is neither more nor less than this: to hear or make up stories, and to pass them on."
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