“And more than once, in their middle years, she and King Shahryar had pretended in bed that her life was on the line again, as it had been for the first thousand nights of their story—a touch of the old fire, the familiar terror of once upon a time.”
—from The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, by John Barth
Barth always has a lot going on, sentences with knuckles and information, breathlessness and perspicacity, so that even Nabokov, when he praised the story “Lost in the Funhouse,” said it possessed such “dappled, swiftly-moving” effects that he had a hard time isolating a brief sample of its magic, and so too I’ve struggled before selecting this early line from Barth’s late masterpiece Somebody the Sailor, an erotic and scarifying performance in which he celebrates (again) his heroine Scheherazade and how she never failed to slip a fresh invention in the way the headsman’s blade, and in this passage Barth imagines the king who fell under the woman’s spell sharing the storytelling with her in later years, long into their fruitful marriage, and how together they return to shivery beginnings to reignite their happiness, just as any good story takes us back to root quandaries as it renews our fervor in finding out how any quandary might matter, and how our very lives might nestle in eventually amid the never-ending night’s whisper between spirit and flesh.
John Domini is the author of Bedlam, Highway Trade, Talking Heads: 77, Earthquake I.D., A Tomb on the Periphery, The Sea-God's Herb, Movieola!, and The Color Inside a Melon. Domini has won awards in all genres, publishing fiction in The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere; and journalism and criticism in The New York Times, Bookforum, The Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere (including Italian journals). He live in Des Moines, Iowa.