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Coover, Robert 1932–

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Coover is an American novelist and short story writer. If there are comic elements in his metafiction, they derive from Coover's conviction that the highest truth lies in a comic, not a tragic, response to life. The relationship of the author to his audience is a focal concern of Coover's, and one that he explores in all his fiction. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)


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Richard Nixon's inward ruminations in [The Public Burning] offer a view of the then Vice President's adolescence, college experience, early years, and sex life that's wholly engrossing. At one level the constructive imagination illuminates neglected relationships among the facts of a private and public life…. And simultaneously there's a dramatization, at another level, of the processes involved in the creation of a literary character…. But for every page of perception there's a matching page of rant and anti-American cliché, uttered by a fantastic creation named Uncle Sam Slick, a blend of Jove, the Holy Ghost, Davy Crockett, and Foxy Grandpa, who presides over the action of The Public Burning from beginning to end, and speaks a dreadful idiom drawn from the Down Home American Folk Past—shebang, hodag, etc. (There are precedents for this sort of rant in the Coover oeuvre.) Uncle Sam's deeds are as boringly predictable as his talk; because of both, The Public Burning seems overschematic and overblown. (p. 98)

Benjamin DeMott, "Culture Watch," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1977 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 240, No. 5, November, 1977, pp. 98-101.∗

Michael Mason

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One thing [the sodomy episode in The Public Burning] brings out is how boringly enthralled and confused [Coover] is by sex, like many contemporary American novelists. This fantasy of anal sex is not nearly as good as the immediately preceding episode, a surrealistically transformed version of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The book should have ended here, especially as this is the "public burning" of the title. But Robert Coover evidently has a Mailer-like view of sodomy as something physically and morally dirty, and hence the conviction that to do it or write about it is interestingly outrageous….

The reader's strongest impression of The Public Burning will probably be of a prodigious feat of assimilation and assembly of historical fact, both ephemeral and substantial….

Generally the torrent of allusions has an almost perfervid liveliness, and shows brilliant powers of verbal mimicry. The crassness of the Nixon sodomy episode is counterweighted by the startlingly clever pastiches of brands of discourse which were conspicuous or celebrated in the early 1950s….

The whole novel consists of alternating chapters in the third person and first person, where the "I" is Nixon, and its most challenging interpretive difficulties concern the characterization of their speaker which the Nixon chapters generate….

Because of [Coover's] procedures the Nixon chapters gather a more authoritative feeling than the authorial ones. This effect is striking, especially in post-Watergate days, but it originates in Mr Coover's earlier, less factional fiction. The armature of The Public Burning is the same as that of his first two novels: an American superstition giving rise to its appropriate imaginary apocalypse. Here the superstition is anticommunism. In The Origin of the Brunists it is millennial religion. In The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. J. Henry Waugh Prop . it is baseball. The heroes of both these previous books are...

(The entire section contains 3207 words.)

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Coover, Robert (Lowell)


Coover, Robert (Vol. 161)