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Issue 33 - A rye look at suicide

Whisky Magazine Issue 33
September 2003


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A rye look at suicide

Jefferson Chase looks at John Barth's The Floating Opera and a day in the life of a would-be suicide case

Born on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1930, John Barth is one of contemporary American fiction's most influential, if not most well-known writers, a forerunner of postmodern novelists like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. And what, you might well want to ask, is postmodernism?

To quote Barth himself, it's “tying your necktie while simultaneously explaining the step-by-step procedure of necktie tying and chatting about the history of male neckwear.” Such self-reflection makes it a natural fit for the most reflective of all alcoholic beverages.

Case in point Barth's first novel, The Floating Opera, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 1956. The Floating Opera begins with the protagonist and narrator introducing himself and his favourite drink: Todd Andrews then…I'm 54 years old (does this surprise you?); I'm six feet tall but weigh only 145. I look like what I think Gregory Peck, the movie actor, will look like when he's 54, except that I keep my hair cut short enough not to have to comb it, and I don't shave every day…I'm interested in any number of things, and enthusiastic about nothing. I wear rather expensive clothing. I smoke Robert Burns cigars. My drink is Sherbrook rye and ginger ale. I read often and unsystematically—that is I have my own system but it's unorthodox. I am in no hurry. In short, I live my life…in much the same manner as I am writing this first chapter of The Floating Opera.

I've never sampled Sherbrook rye, with or without an ...

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