The title story of John Barth’s collection, Lost in the Funhouse, has continued to resonate in the decades since it first appeared. There are those who did not fall under the spell of the volume of short stories by John Barth published under the title Lost in the Funhouse — the extensive bodies of analysis written about this author contain their fair share of dismissive criticism, and perhaps some of the points made are well-founded. Barth’s work is often what might be called self-indulgent, and the layers upon layers of obscure references can be very trying to plough through. However, my vote is cast with those who are in awe of what he has accomplished and who have found any hardship entailed a small price to pay for the riches available along his narrative paths.
Funhouse as life-encompassing metaphor
Thanks to the influence of a well-read friend whose knowledge of American literature was up to the minute, I found myself in the Funhouse almost the moment it was published(sellers on Amazon.com offer the very edition I bought then and still have). Philosophically, it was a kind of homecoming on first reading, and its extended metaphor — the house of mirrors; the way out; the detached overview — has continued to resonate for me, both on numerous occasions and my many re-readings over the years. Not everything I hailed as a revelation with the ability to console has held up for me in the same fashion. Further reading and experience sometimes demonstrate that old loves were marvelous in their place and time but that one moves on and grows somewhat less enchanted. Lost in the Funhouse, however, seems to me to have been constructed of materials that withstand the erosive elements and only gain an evocative patina as evidence of time passed: that is, the works read, lessons learned (or not), adventures experienced increase the reader’s ability to comprehend what was there from the outset and to recognize new facets that were hidden before.
To be lost in the funhouse is to be discovered
John Barth’s literary acrobatics in his Funhouse struck me long ago — and still seem, to my mind — the perfect technical means of simultaneously building his metaphor and extending the limits of narrative possibilities. The story is self-aware and even self-conscious, but it is these very qualities that create a most convincing voice. The dialogue between the inner and the outer; the random musings of the author and his creation; the mirrors held up to fleeting thought and keen observation: all these in their myriad variations allow us to be both lost and found in the funhouse.