John's Wife

Robert Coover, Author Simon & Schuster $24 (432p) ISBN 978-0-684-81841-2
Perhaps the most versatile--and funniest--of America's manically inventive postmodernist writers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s (a group that includes Donald Barthelme, John Barth and William Gaddis), Coover has always been the most adept at placing middle-American life under his looking glass and transmuting it into a metaphysical carnival. John is a mall-builder: ""where he walked, the earth changed, because he wished it so, and like as not, his wishes all came true."" John and his wife, in fact, are the twin suns of the small town where this raucous and disturbing novel is set. Everybody desires John's wife, ""yet few of the town's citizens, if asked, could have described her."" She is the screen on which everyone projects his or her desires. Floyd, the born-again tough who runs John's pharmacy, wants John's wife purely as an expression of his class animus. But her core is elusive, to say the least, as the town's minister can attest when, during a tryst with John's wife, she disappears after lifting her dress up over her head. John's wife begins, literally, to fade in increments--a situation for which some in town, latching onto superstition, consider blaming the local photographer, who has mades it his life's work to do ""a complete study of her, in all her public and private aspects."" As in Gerald's Party, Coover flits from one character's perspective to another's (but never that of John's wife). His prose is, as always, biting and suggestive, a spicy blend of erudition and scatology, epic and farce. It's the perfect vehicle for bringing the surreal action and manic cogitation of these characters into sharp detail--fitting ornamentation for his fun-house reflections of the shape of human desire. Author tour. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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