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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pricksongs and Descants (1969) by Robert Coover

Cover of Ircksongs and Descants, Robert Coover's seminal 1969 collection of short stories that helped define the term "metafiction."
Book Review
Pricksongs and Descants (1969)
 by Robert Coover

   Pricksongs and Descants gets you pretty close to the heart of the secret literary Illuminati that find eventual employment in the academy, teaching or in the culture industry.  Coover's breakthrough collection of meta-fictional stories is best known for the much anthologized The Babysitter.  That story gives the reader a shattered mirror of different possible scenarios that unfold from the conventional "babysitter home alone" trope.  Other, less popular stories pioneer meta-fictional techniques of using fairy tales and comic books to inspire shard-like narratives.

   So deep and profound have Coover's ideas about fiction penetrated subsequent writers efforts that Pricksongs and Descants feels dated and obvious, like a Roy Lichtenstein comic art canvas, or a Warhol Campbell's Tomato Soup Can.  A bit like a museum piece, if you will.   However, there is the graphic sexual parts to keep a contemporary reader interested.  Coover is not exactly transgressive in the vein of a Henry Miller or William Burroughs, he's a more sober writer interested in the fullness of human weirdness. 

    Amazingly, Coover is still publishing novels- he put one out in 2014, but he never achieved the kind of popular attention that the writers he influenced achieved.  It's hard to explain why the 1001 Books series essentially ignores the short story as a genre.  If you were relying on this project for your information, you might think that nobody wrote short stories before the late 1960's.

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