Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears?

Robert Coover, Author
Robert Coover, Author Simon & Schuster $16.45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-671-63813-9
Reviewed on: 09/01/1987
Release date: 09/01/1987
A notorious, former U.S. president is never mentioned by name, but certain similarities between him and the bizarre Gloomy Gus are too conspicuous to be overlooked. Both attended Whittier College in California; both were actors and debators; both played football, one as a sweatily ambitious but dismal failure, the other ultimately as a great halfback for the Bears. Gus is obsessive-compulsive to the point of madnessa ""freak'' and special kind of idiot. Coover integrates his portrait into this slender mythicizing novel of America in the Depressionof WPA arts-projects, the early days of the CIO, the historic Chicago Republic Steel strike and the police massacre of idealistic young men joining the doomed Lincoln Battalion to fight against Spanish Fascism. The evocation of time and place is strikingly accurate if gaudily eccentric, and the narrator, Meyer, a sculptor in welded metal, is a representative figure, as are other characters glimpsed in passing. The novel is a mosaic of brief glimpses, fragmentary scenesan extended, zany description of Gus learning the trade of football by rote, by memorizing the moves. But Gus lacks the essential, esthetic understanding of the great American gamethe subtle principle of ``balance,'' the very deficiency that would bring down that other Whittier alumnus 40 years later. (September 3)
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