3.5 out of 5: The Development is a novel told in nine short stories. The title refers to Heron Bay Estates, a fictional retirement/second-home community on the Chesapeake Bay in which all of these stories take place. Although the same characters appear throughout the book, the focus and point of view changes for each story, revealing new information about the characters and illustrating the deep connections that run through this close-knit community. In addition to the idea of community, the other primary theme present in these stories is mortality and the aging process: What does it mean to grow old? And when, if ever, is it time to give up the ghost?
Barth pays great attention to structure in this collection. Not only is the narrative structure of each story closely controlled, but the structure of Heron Bay Estates is also meticulously described and upheld. Each sub-neighborhood contains a particular style of house and a specific type of inhabitant, and Barth remains faithful, sometimes annoyingly so, to this structure throughout.
Bath's playful writing style adds a substantial amount of levity to these often dark stories, though Barth's narrative stunts are occasionally more frustrating than satisfying. In one case, Barth simply stops a story in the middle of the action, "pull[ing] its narrative plug before somebody gets hurt." Only someone with a reputation as well-established as Barth's can get away with such an escape. Fortunately, other fully-formed stories (of which "Toga Party" is the best) round out this interesting collection.