Robert Coover: The Universal Fictionmaking Process

By Lois Gordon | Go to book overview

4
The Public Burning The Making of the President

The great experience of the twentieth century has been to accept the objective reality of time and thus of process -- history does not repeat, the universe is not changeless, masses dissolve and slide through the fingers, there are no precognitions -- and out in that flow all such assertions may be true, false, inconsequential, or all at the same time. (P. 195)

What was fact, what intent, what was framework, what was essence? Strange, the impact of History, the grip it had on us, yet it was nothing but words. Accidental accretions for the most part, leaving most of the story out. We have not yet begun to explore the true power of the Word.... What if we broke all the rules, played games with the evidence, manipulated language itself, made History a partisan ally?" (P. 136)

The Public Burning ( 1977) is Coover's most daring book, extraordinary in its mixture of fact and fiction, epic and fantasy. Coover stretches the limits of the historical novel to include any number of literary forms and techniques -- from ballad, melodrama, and farce to tragedy and old comedy -- and he incorporates, as well, structural devices from several other popular and high arts, like opera, collage, film, and cartoon. The novel is a vivid and bitter panorama of America during the early 1950s, and its major characters range from Richard Nixon and a materialized Uncle Sam to Gary Cooper as the sheriff in High Noon and Wild Bill Hickok -- countless real and imaginary heroes of American history and their media representations.

The narrative climax centers around the ritual and grotesque

-51-

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