October 22, 1979 12:00 PM

by John Barth

There is too much more to the story for this letter—enough to make a novelsworth of letters,” writes Andrew Cook IV in a letter dated 1812. Cook, of course, is a character from Barth’s 1960 novel, The Sot-Weed Factor. What Barth hath wrought is 864 pages of letters from men and women (plus their descendants) who have appeared in his books. Together they constitute an orgy for anyone who enjoys reading other people’s mail. The rollicking flavor of The Sot-Weed Factor is combined with the surreal frills of The Floating Opera and the stark, haunted themes of End of the Road. A dazzling ingenuity is apparent here: The characters take over from their creator, explaining and correcting his books. It isn’t even necessary to have read Barth to get a wallop out of this funny collection. There’s never been anything quite like Letters before from any writer. (Putnam, $ 16.95)

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