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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Sot-Weed Factor

I have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that relatively few of the books that I've read have been so bad that it was painful for me to keep reading.  Unfortunately, I still have had a few of those, and one of them was the Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth.  Like another of my least favorite books, Don Quixote, Barth's novel is a satire.  While Don Quixote was intended as a commentary on orthodoxy, The Sot-Weed Factor intended to make light of the origins of America through the use of licentious and scatological humor.  The full title goes into a little more detail on the subject matter: "The Sot-Weed Factor: Or, a Voyage to Maryland. A Satyr. In which is describ'd, the Laws, Government, Courts and Constitutions of the Country; and also the Buildings, Feats, Frolics, Entertainments and Drunken Humours of the Inhabitants of that Part of America."

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I have no problem with books that are critical of America's early days.  Certainly there's plenty to be condemned.  But when I've read works that do that, I've never really felt like they weren't getting their point across because of a lack of jokes about bodily functions and bizarre sexual practices involving eggplants.  These aren't isolated or particularly clever.  They are constant, redundant, and generally obvious.  Apparently, The Sot-Weed Factor marked the beginning of Barth's literary postmodernism, but frankly I can't see why anyone would read this unless they're looking for a bizarre retelling of early American history, like the Pocahontas story, replete with adolescent humor.

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