Lost in the Funhouse is a short story often seen to exemplify metafiction, in which the author uses the story to draw attention to its construction. In the case of this tale, it switches freely between three narrative frames: that of the fiction itself which concerns a teenage boy at the seaside, that of the same character reflecting on the events as an adult, and that of an author or critic reflecting on the way they have built the story.

The story lends its name to a collection of stories by the author but is frequently anthologised. You can read it online here (A subscription may be required).

The story often works in more than one of its frames at once. For instance, there are several points where text in the adolescent-frame is repeated with slight variation as though the writer in the author-frame is trying out different turns of phrase for best effect:

Magda would certainly give, Magda would certainly yield

This isn't the point of the question - I mention it because it becomes relevant in a possible interpretation.

One of the many things that puzzled me about the story is the several instances in which sentences simply stop, mid-flow. Here are a few examples:

"He gave his life that we might live," said Uncle Karl with a scowl of pain, as he. The woman’s legs had been twined behind the man’s neck; he’d spread her fat cheeks with tattooed hands and pumped like a whippet.

The Irish author James Joyce once wrote. Ambrose M_ is going to scream.

if anyone seemed lost or frightened, all the operator had to do was. He wishes he had never entered the funhouse.

I'm baffled as to the purpose of these interruptions. My first presumption is that they'd be resumed elsewhere in the text, but as far as I can tell that doesn't seem to be the case. My second thought is that they were further examples of the adolescent-frame working in tandem with the author-frame as sentences the author had intended to come back to and complete. This feels more plausible, but I'm not entirely convinced authors write like that: it feels more likely they'd use a placeholder or rush the sentence to completion and revise it later.

So what do these never-completed sentences tell us about the themes and metafiction of Lost in the Funhouse? Why are they there?

  • 1
    Relevant: John Barth's The Literature of Exhaustion, published in 1967 and apparently "sometimes considered to be the manifesto of postmodernism".
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 16 at 16:08
  • 1
    If you opt to read it in pdf you get the whole thing with no sub required, or at least I did.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 16 at 21:31

1 Answer 1


My reading was that it isn’t so much about the sentence that is interrupted but more about the insistence of the thoughts that break in.

In your examples, we can see that the interrupted sentences are somewhat ‘higher thinking’, cool and rational, but the thoughts that push in are more primal, the hind-brain is occupied with earthier matters of sex and fear.

The interrupted sentences are cool and rational, the interruptions more instinctive and reactive. At the end of the day, Uncle Karl, Joyce and the operator do not speak to Ambrose, or to any of us, as directly as as the primal matters of sex and fear.

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