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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another slyly inventive story from Robert Coover

Robert Coover turns up in the current New Yorker with a story, The Crabapple Tree, that seems to be part of a series he's working on, if I remember his recent publications correctly, of tales told in contemporary language and in contemporary settings about the kinds of myths, legends, and horror stories that nearly every community has, shares, or hides - the stories and rumors of the haunted house, the mad tenant, the drowning pool, e.g. In my childhood, we talked about "the Spanish mansion," a big house on the hill, made up weird stories about it, told one another, scared one another, not one story based in fact. In Coover's story there appears to be some kind of factual basis - a farmer marries a young woman who dies in childbirth and later takes a 2nd wife who's a "wicked stepmother" and also the town slut; as various people die they're supposedly buried under the crabapple tree, which allegedly produces poisonous fruit. The story narrated by a contemporary of the farmer and a sympathetic working-class woman in the town who, in the course of her narration, describes her own failed marriage and a few sputtering affairs with town officials (sources for her info or mis-info). Coover effectively balances out the story, in that we, the readers, know it's based on fact but not entirely "true," in part because it's told through a credible narrator who believes in her own tale, not by some ancient yarn-spinner or raconteur. Coover, an old friend and a great guy, has had a wonderful and brilliant writing career ranging from really long and complex novels (his debut Origin of the Brunists is one of the greats) to very short stories that experiment with narrative technique. These late-career stories, pretty conventional in structure but slyly inventive in tone and theme, are coming together as a new element in his work; glad to see the New Yorker recognizing his stature and talent.

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