Coming Soon!!! by John Barth: What’s it about?

I’m not sure how useful the above question is in general, but it’s something we all ask and I guess almost all reviews try to address it too. I was thinking of this while reading John Barth’s latest novel, Coming Soon!!!: on the one hand it’s about a struggling showboat, but really it’s about John Barth the author writing a book about John Barth the character writing a book about a young would-be writer working on a showboat who is writing a book about this young writer and this older writer John Barth, who are both writing books about each other… And there are about a hundred other metafictional layers and tricks and devices, all mixed up and bleeding into one another until you don’t know what ontological level you’re supposed to be reading. Except there is a showboat struggling to survive in the midst of it.

Frankly, I love such ludic PoMo stuff, though it’s easy to ee why some despise it as tricksy and groundless, but I do think this is disappointing. Some serious medical eye problems have made reading an epic effort for me lately, which doesn’t help, but I wonder if I’ve lost interest in Barth too – he has been in my top ten or so favourite writers for many years now. Apart from Barth himself, who doesn’t do much, none of the characters convince, and most are very annoying, especially the perky and brilliant young writer, and his girlfriend, yet another bloody take on Scheherezade. The story is negligible and uninteresting, and a selfconscious return to Barth’s debut black comedy, but lacking the black comedy and story twists and strong protagonist. His prose gets smugger and cosier all the time. Still, whenever a new layer of meta sneaks in, or one extant layer infects another, I am pleased I am reading it.