Understanding Robert Coover

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Univ of South Carolina Press, 2003 - Literary Criticism - 301 pages
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This text takes on the work of Robert Coover, a major figure of postmodern metafiction. In an analysis of Coover's short stories and novels, it demonstrates how Coover writes in several different modes that cross over into one another.

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Robert Coover, a man of infinite imagination, gets an interpreter here with very little. Although Mr. Evenson is capable of telling his reader what happens in Coover's work, he is helpless to explain or illuminate his subject. Let a single example suffice.
In the short story "The Brother", Noah's down-home salt-of-the-earth brother tells how he helped build the ark only to have Noah heartlessly turn his back on him and his wife when the flood comes. Although short on Cooverish dazzle, "The Brother" is nonetheless brilliant. A familiar and simple tale, simply told, its effect is immense, exponentially powerful, cosmic really. But here's Evenson on "The Brother":
"Coover wants to suggest there may be another side to the story, a side that does not get recorded in the Bible and which may call in question the ethical nature of Noah's actions. In this interpretation the story is recast as a betrayal of one brother by another. As told from Noah's brother's viewpoint, the story of the Deluge seems closer to the Cain and Abel story. Telling it this way forces us to think about those destroyed in the flood rather than rejoicing over the handful who were saved." Clunk, clunk, clunk.
Well, it hasn't forced Mr. Evenson to think very much. The story isn't really about Noah's moral shortcomings. He's just following orders. It's God who comes up short. He's the twisted creep in this picture, and by telling the story simply in that domestic contemporary vernacular Robert Coover makes it plain as can be, even if Mr. Evenson doesn't get it. If the flood story is any index, the biblical god is a monstrously cruel and vengeful tyrant, with little inclination for mercy or forgiveness or compassion or even common decency, so it doesn't say much for whoever dreamed up the original and foisted it on believers, much less those who think Noah a fine example today and would use him to teach children obedience. Oh, it makes you think, all right. Makes me think about the Noah story being part of the backbone of western culture and what a nasty piece of work that god is, made in man's image; no wonder even wholesale slaughter is deemed perfectly moral if it's in service of someone's notion of the divine. That's how you get the horrors of the Thirty Years War as well as those of The War on Terror. But Mr Evenson doesn't go beyond thinking Noah might be morally questionable and that our rejoicing could be misplaced.
Robert Coover really deserves far better.

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About the author (2003)

Brian Evenson is the author of five books of fiction. He is a senior editor for Conjunctions magazine and the director of creative writing at the University of Denver. Evenson lives in Denver

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