cover image Going for a Beer

Going for a Beer

Robert Coover. Norton, $26.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-393-60846-5

Coover has been testing the limits of fiction for more than 50 years, and his interrogation of story structure and mingling of highbrow postmodernism with pop culture have influenced generations of writers. This collection celebrates Coover’s virtuosity as a short story writer; its 30 selected stories are playfully experimental, restlessly innovative, and a total joy to read. Of course there’s 1969’s classic “The Babysitter,” which famously assembles a kaleidoscopic range of possibilities faced by one teen during a night on the job, and reimaginings of stories from the Bible (“The Brother”), fairy tales (“The Dead Queen”), and film (“You Must Remember This”). But Coover’s genius is his ability to coax profundity from a story that begins, “The cartoon man drives his cartoon car into the cartoon town and runs over a real man,” or create dreamscapes, like the one built out of old celluloid in “The Phantom of the Movie Palace,” that come to seem more coherent in their peculiar logic than our own world. Readers will find the Pied Piper, Snow White, Punch and Judy, superheroes, stick men, a handsome Texas senator attempting to forestall a Martian invasion—and, in “Beginnings,” a writer who migrates to a distant island and shoots himself in the head before going on to enjoy his vacation because “It is important to begin when everything is already over.” This gets to the spirit of Coover’s work, the way it spikes traditional narrative with “spirals, revolutions, verb tenses, and game theory,” always imbued with humor, pathos, and wry intelligence. A career-topping marvel, this collection finds meaning in the wildness of the cultural subconscious. (Feb.)