John Barth stays true to form in Every Third Thought, written from the perspective of a character Barth introduced in his short story collection The Development.
George I. Newett and his wife Amanda Todd lived in the gated community of Heron Bay Estates until its destruction by a fluke tornado. This event, Newett notes, occurred on the 77th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, a detail that would appear insignificant if it were not for several subsequent events.
The stress of the tornado's devastation prompts the Newett–Todds to depart on a European vacation, during which George suffers a fall on none other than his 77th birthday, the first day of autumn (or more cryptically, fall). Following this coincidence, George experiences the first of what is to become five serial visions, each appearing to him on the first day of the ensuing seasons, and each corresponding to a pivotal event in that season of his life.
As the novel unfolds, so do these uncanny coincidences, and it is clear that, as ever, Barth possesses an unmatched talent in balancing his characteristic style and wit with vivid, page–turning storytelling.
Though fans will enjoy Barth's latest, which tackles the subject of old-age and dying, newcomers may find the novel gimmicky. George Irving (G.) Newett, a 77-year-old Maryland native, begins this fictional memoir by explaining a series of unlikely occurrences (a "fluke tornado in the otherwise all but storm-free hurricane season") that bookmark emotionally significant events of his life, placing great importance on seasonal changes, such as "post-equinoctial vision" and "solstitial illumination." His recollections of childhood memories with his best friend and fellow fiction-writer Ned Prosper are titillating (the two friends exchange sexual partners, in one compelling section), but ultimately unsatisfying. As a character, Ned lacks the fullness Barth (Lost in the Funhouse) brings to G.'s wife, Amanda Todd, a fellow English professor. However, Barth's depiction of the emotional and sexual lives of married senior citizens proves heartfelt, and crucial to the novel's unexpected climax. .