Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Many Makers Make Baby Post: 40 Years of Reading "The Babysitter"

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Many Makers Make Baby Post: 40 Years of Reading "The Babysitter"

Article excerpt

He explained that the Earth--the Deterritorialized, the Glacial,
    the giant Molecule--is a body without organs. This body without
   organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all
   directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or
   transitory particles. That, however, was not the question at
   hand.
      Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
. 

So who does the Babysitter think she is?

1969 and I'm reading Robert Coover's "The Babysitter," right? Which sort of makes me the Reader in this essay, the first step into its halls of mirrors since I'm also the Writer, obviously. Which I guess is the point of the story, and the essay. Well, maybe not the point of the story. Nor the essay, come to think of it. More like one of its (their? our?) flows, how we get from here to there: how much of a writer a reader has to be to read this story, and how the story--a teenage girl babysits the Tuckers' children at their house and/or either gets raped, murdered, murders the children, molests the kids, and/or only watches TV--isn't really what it's about. Or at least isn't the most interesting thing it's about. The news is full of stories like that, if that's what you're into. Which is to say the story moves as a cloud--"patterns of gliding figures," as a musical on TV is imagined early in the story--the information cloud that is the story morphing as it glides along. I mean, what's a reader to do with lines like: "'Okay, that's enough!' her skirt is ripped and she's flushed and crying."--Fill in the gaps, right?--do what everyone does when reading any story (or any writing for that matter), say a traditional story that says things like, "John opened the door. Inside, he sat down." Make the leap that allows us to see John walk (so to speak, the only thing we actually "see" being black ink on white paper, of course). That's the way fiction, and writing-reading, works. Or rather where it works: in our heads. When I write "see" you understand "imagine." When I write "inside," you do the inbetweening, as they say in animation, that is, make the drawings that complete the action between the key frames that the author has supplied. The problem (or great thing) is that it's hard to score in this game called reading when Coover keeps moving the goalposts. And the doorway. And the door. And the gap between. So when Mrs. Tucker asks Mr. Tucker, "What do you think of our babysitter?" and the next line is, "He loves her," naturally we think it's his answer, albeit given in his head (as if understanding writing-masquerading-as-speech wasn't hard enough, now we have to pretend we can read minds). But the story continues, "She loves him [and the gloss in my head goes something like: All right, I'm thinking, now Mr. Tucker is imagining that the Babysitter digs him]. And then the babies come. [Huh? Oh, I get it: he's projecting his own life onto the Babysitter.] And dirty nappies and one goddamn meal after another. Dishes. Noise. Clutter. And fat. [Huh?] Not just tight, her [emphasis mine] girdle actually hurts." Now I know for sure that this part of the story has slid into Mrs. Tucker's head, has been there all along, in fact, my original reading was a misreading, "He loves her" not coming out of Mr. Tucker's consciousness, but Mrs. Tucker's, which changes everything. But as I continue to read, I realize that that's all there is in this story: misreadings--my inability to score not so much that Coover keeps moving the goalposts as I've been playing the wrong game, football, say, while Coover has been playing hide-and-seek. Or maybe it's bait-and-switch. Or Three-card Monte. I don't know. (Actually he's been writing, but I'm going for a metaphor here.) But he's been playing this game from the start, even if it took me a while to catch on: "She arrives at 7:40, ten minutes late," the story begins, a number giving us an objective fix, a handle, or toe-hold (another metaphor), numbers being so much more solid (metaphor again) than words, supposedly. …

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