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Robert Coover Overview

born: 1932
born in: Charles City, IA
lives in:
In 1990, Richard Nixon released "RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon," an account of his life that was praised for its unexpected candor and introspection; but thirteen years earlier a far more convincing narrative, also told by Nixon, was divulged in... [more]

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Excerpt from "Stepmother"

Look at it this way, love, I tell her: no more slops to empty. I get no rise out of her, game as she is, my poor desperate daughter, her head is locked on one thing and one thing only: how to escape her inescapable fate. How many I've seen go this way, daughters, stepdaughters, whatever—some just turn up at my door, I'm never quite sure whose they are or where they come from—but I know where they go: to be drowned, hung, stoned, beheaded, burned at the stake, impaled, torn apart, shot, put to the sword, boiled in oil, dragged down the street in barrels studded on the inside with nails or nailed into barrels with holes drilled in them and rolled into the river. Their going always sickens me and the deep self-righteous laughter of their executioners causes the bile to rise, and for a time thereafter I unleash a storm of hell, or at least what's in my meager power to raise, and so do my beautiful wild daughters, it's a kind of violent mourning, and so they come down on us again and more daughters are caught up in what the Reaper calls the noble toils of justice and thus we keep the cycle going, rolling along through this timeless time like those tumbling nail-studded barrels. Of course, the child, naked and spread-eagled and shackled to the floor below me, expects me to get her out of this somehow. I'm a witch, I should be able to do something. And it's true, I do have a few tricks, though in general it's more useful to be thought a witch than to be one. An aura lingers on, accruing respect, but tricks are only tricks and they come and go. Magic rings and slippers are misplaced or stolen, unbreakable rods get broken, spells collapse for a fault in the grammar or a memory lapse. To which I'm increasingly given, as if my inborn malice were being mocked by my own particulates. Nevertheless, I've gotten in here only because I've been able to change into a bleating lamb and put her jailors in a trance. They're stupid boys, baa baa, a child could do it. But the trance won't last much longer, we only have a few minutes, and so far I've not been able to conjure up a way out of here. Not for a lack of effort. I've been at it since she got taken. First, I tried to turn the king into a frog so as to improve my negotiating position, but he only ended up with a rash of warts and a goutish temper. So then I sent him some sacks of gold to try to make my peace and buy her freedom, but magic gold has a way of fading to cinders while being counted and I've been told I am now in debt to the castle by that amount. I delivered a poisoned apple to the queen, who my poor daughter insists is her hateful and revengeful stepsister, one of them, but somebody nicked it and a kitchen boy was said to be poorly. I have nothing against kitchen boys and so sent another apple to make him well again, but the king appropriated this one to doctor his warts and let the boy die. I even borrowed Old Soldier's magic horn and tried to bring down the prison walls by blowing it at them, but I am short on musical gifts as everyone knows and only got pelted by garbage from the neighbors. And now I've recited a few incantations from the catechism, trying to pop her shackles, but they're of a make I haven't seen before and the old spells don't seem to work. I've rubbed her wrists and ankles with my warty thumb, trying to shrink them and so free her that way, but they're raw and I only made her cry. Time is running out for us, she'll die before the sun's down, and die horribly, unless I can stir the ashes in my old chimney and think of something. But it's clear she's losing confidence in me. When I arrived, I caught her praying to the Ogress, which goes against the family grain, though I could hardly blame her, that ruthless ghoul has a lot of heavy magic, or so they say, mother of the top dog among sorcerers and queen of a host of others, but she's so infuriatingly full of herself and a monster all the same, and I say, her magic be damned, may the shameless turkey-assed tyrant rot in hell. If there is one. And why not? No more unlikely than this pesthole. I warn my daughter. Stay away from the Ogress, I say, she only wants you dead. She's got a thing for corpses, always has had. She's a soul eater. I am running out of choices, mama. I am afraid.

The Fallguy's Faith

Falling from favor, or grace, some high artifice, down he dropped like a discredited predicate through what he called space (sometimes he called it time) and with an earsplitting crack splattered the base earth with his vital attributes. Oh, I've had a great fall, he thought as he lay there, numb with terror, trying desperately to pull himself together again. This time (or space) I've really done it! He had fallen before of course: short of expectations, into bad habits, out with his friends, upon evil days, foul of the law, in and out of love, down in the dumps—indeed, as though egged on by some malevolent metaphor generated by his own condition, he had always been falling, had he not?—but this was the most terrible fall of all. It was like the very fall of pride, of stars, of Babylon, of cradles and curtains and angels and rain, like the dread fall of silence, of sparrows, like the fall of doom. It was, in a word, as he knew now, surrendering to the verb of all flesh, the last fall (his last anyway: as for the chips, he sighed, releasing them, let them fall where they may)—yet why was it, he wanted to know, why was it that everything that had happened to him had seemed to have happened in language? Even this! Almost as though, without words for it, it might not have happened at all! Had he been nothing more, after all was said and done, than a paraphrastic curiosity, an idle trope, within some vast syntactical flaw of existence? Had he fallen, he worried as he closed his eyes for the last time and consigned his name to history (may it take it or leave it), his juices to the soil (was it soil?), merely to have it said he had fallen? Ah! tears tumbled down his cheeks, damply echoing thereby the greater fall, now so ancient that he himself was beginning to forget it (a farther fall perhaps than all the rest, this forgetting: a fall as it were within a fall), and it came to him in these fading moments that it could even be said that, born to fall, he had perhaps fallen simply to be born (birth being less than it was cracked up to be, to coin a phrase)! Yes, yes, it could be said, what can not be said, but he didn't quite believe it, didn't quite believe either that accidence held the world together. No, if he had faith in one thing, this fallguy (he came back to this now), it was this: in the beginning was the gesture, and that gesture was: he opened his mouth to say it aloud (to prove some point or other?), but too late—his face cracked into a crooked smile and the words died on his lips ...


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