Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Pedestrian Accident” is from Coover’s collection of short stories called Pricksongs and Descants (1969). The title of the collection refers not only to the recurring theme of sex and death, including the violent and the grotesque, but also to the musical terms that define a form of music in which variations play against a basic line. “Pricksong” is synonymous with “descant.” Events in “A Pedestrian Accident” are counterpointed against the familiar literary themes of Paul the Apostle, theatrical farces, and the surrealist montage of doctor, priest, and beggar. This kind of counterpointing results in multiple perspectives and points toward an understanding of the broad fictional base on which comprehension of the universe rests. With Coover, as with many other postmodernist writers, a reader is asked to consider the primacy of self, not for purposes of solipsism, but to emphasize the creative power of human beings.

Nineteenth century culture stresses empiricism—the primacy of objective reality. Twentieth century “new physics,” however, insists that there is no objective reality different from what individuals perceive. Individuals, however, cannot have complete knowledge simultaneously of all the facts because the very act of observing the system changes the system. Ordinary language, which is based on the old concepts of space and time, is no longer appropriate to describe the findings of modern physics. Thus, in contemporary science, the ordinary has given way to the fabulous; fact and fiction, as they were once perceived, have become blurred; and an artist such as Coover takes delight in fantastic inventions, hoping to change the world by reinventing it.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Andersen, Richard. Robert Coover. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Cope, Jackson. Robert Coover’s Fictions. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Evenson, Brian. Understanding Robert Coover. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Gado, Frank. First Person: Conversations on Writers and Writing. Schenectady, N.Y.: Union College Press, 1973.

Gordon, Lois G. Robert Coover: The Universal Fictionmaking Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

Kennedy, Thomas E. Robert Coover: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

McCaffery, Larry. “As Guilty as the Rest of Them: An Interview with Robert Coover.” Critique 42, no. 1 (Fall, 2000): 115-125.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Work of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Maltby, Paul. Dissident Postmodernists: Barthleme, Coover, Pynchon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Pughe, Thomas. Comic Sense: Reading Robert Coover, Stanley Elkin, Philip Roth. Berlin: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1994.