Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first of Pricksongs & Descants’s two epigraphs provides a useful introduction to the narrative technique of Coover’s collection in general and to “The Brother” in particular. It is, “He thrusts, she heaves,” from John Cleland’s semipornographic novel, Fanny Hill (1748-1749). This epigraph calls the reader’s attention to the story’s sexual dimension, one that Coover highlights by translating the perfunctory “begats” of his biblical source into an emotional and sexual bond connecting the narrator and his pregnant wife. Less obviously but no less importantly, the epigraph underscores two other stylistic relationships found in “The Brother.” These are the ones between old-fashioned narrative drive and new-fangled narrative experimentation on the one hand and between the original story of Noah and the Flood and Coover’s variation on this mythic theme on the other. Indeed, it is Coover’s ability to combine entertaining narrative and narrative theory that unifies his collection’s twenty fictions despite obvious and rather considerable differences in their subject matter and style.

Coover takes considerable pains to make the lives of his story’s protagonist and his wife both sympathetic and “real.” Not only does he endow them with a depth of feeling; he provides them with the very existence that the biblical story denies them. Against the “thrust” of this realistic, or mock-realistic, surface,...

(The entire section is 508 words.)