Friday, June 20, 2014

Fiction Friday (30)

The latest book that I read is one that I received for Christmas that came off of my never-ending wishlist of books. This one comes from Robert Coover, a favorite author of mine ever since I fist read him many years ago. As one of the voices of Grove Press, which has long been home to many of my most treasured books, Coover is a pioneer that has never gained the kind of attention he deserves. The book reviewed below was published in the last ten years, and though it takes a different route than some of his earlier work, stands right alongside those that came before. There are few things I enjoy more than writers whose writing is a pleasure to read regardless of the story it is telling. Coover is one such author and I'm glad to share this one with all of you. Enjoy.

A Child Again by Robert Coover
(McSweeny's 2005)

The world of children's fables and fairy tales becomes fertile soil for nurturing Coover's imagination in this collection of short stories, which like the tales the derive from, examine many complicated aspects of the human condition in veiled and playful ways. Coover's prose, always worthy of praise, is in fine form here. He has a way of transforming the innocent into the perverse with a few beautifully worded and carefully placed phrases.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this book takes the reader on. From the opening page where we are introduced to Puff the Dragon, brooding in his cave and longing for the long lost boy who used to come to play with him, I knew this was going to be my kind of book. Many of the stories, including Puff's tale and the story of Alice going through menopause in the absurd landscape of Wonderland, deal with the conflicts that arise from growing up and feeling disconnected with the child you used to be. Not an easy theme to craft, but Coover does masterfully.

Other stories take a children's tale as way of discussing the horrible undercurrent that lies just under the surface of our society. As it has often been pointed out, a human community is a fragile eco-system and it would only take one interruption of routine to send it spiraling out of control. This idea is demonstrated with heartbreaking cruelty in the "The Return of the Dark Children" which details what happens to the town the Pied Piper left childless so many years before. The selfish nature of people, and their willingness to exploit others' ignorance, is incredibly captured in this story. In a similar vein, "Stick Man" examines how quickly human wonder can turn to boredom, which often turns to cruelty.

Though the themes are often weighty, the delight of Coover's work is his ability to inject humor into even the most awful circumstances. For example "The Last One", a retelling of one of the darkest fairy tales and also my favorite fairy tale, is one of the book's most playful while still staying true to the horrific nature of the original.

As with any story collection, there are stories that rise to the top and others that simply exist. There weren't any stories in here that I didn't like, though I did wish for more from the Little Red Riding Hood tale, which seems ripe for Coover but here felt somewhat restrained. All in all, this book is a true delight, and not mention one of the finest printed editions that I've seen for a book in quite some time.

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