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Pricksongs & Descants: Fictions Paperback – March, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Series: Coover, Robert
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press ed edition (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802136672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802136671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Hicks on July 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Somehow, over the years, Robert Coover has been denied the status he deserves as one of America's most original and celebrated satirists of all things red white & blue. Although almost 40 years old now, this collection of short stories still displays Coover's protean talents at their most kaleidoscopic, despite the fact these works came early in his long career.

In each of his stories, Coover takes iconic items of 20th Century American culture and holds them up to fun-house mirrors. Sometimes the Coover-modified images reveal a dark underbelly to myth, sometimes they are manically funny and sometimes they're simply warped -- but at all times, they move at breakneck speed and the wordcraft is nonpareil.

While one by no means has to be a student of American iconography to appreciate these stories, the greater one's understanding of suburban mythology he or she brings to the party, the more he or she will take away.

Coover's complex, yet extremely approachable writing gives readers the choice at what level they wish to read his work. They can be read as biting commentary on America's social mores or -- even better -- as a dazzling, runaway roller coaster ride taken for no other reason than the unadulterated joy of it. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee...........
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Coover's name is typically mentioned alongside postmodern / metafiction masters like Barth, Barthelme, Borges and Calvino (one heck of a law firm, there), and Pricksongs & Descants is usually cited as his breakthrough book. While I agree that he's certainly exploring similar terrain, and that P&D definitely has some innovative, standout moments, I don't think Coover's work here is of quite the same caliber.

For one thing, it's often not a lot of fun to read. Most of the stories in this volume have at least some basis is fairytale, fable, myth or fantasy, which Coover then twists and extrudes through a sort of probability engine, revealing myriad possible outcomes. The sections of his nonlinear stories seem a bit like slices from a 'choose your own adventure' book, and combined with his penchant for dark, psychosexual drama, the result is occasionally intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying.

With Coover, there's a feeling that cleverness is paramount. As William H. Gass observed in a largely enthusiastic 1969 review, "this is a book of virtuoso exercises: alert, self-conscious, instructional and show-off. Look at me, look at me, look at me now..." With its tricks and twists, the book practically fawns for admiration, though while controlled and technically accomplished, Coover's writing seems to lack a lot of genuine heart or generosity of spirit. This was a well that often drained me as a reader, rather than filling me up.

That being said, Coover's 'shuffled deck' technique reaches its apotheosis in "The Babysitter," a remarkable story that explodes the latent psychosexual tensions of suburban life with stunning ingenuity, what Gass called "a remarkable fugue -- the stock fears and wishes, desires and dangers of our time done into Bach." Though much of P&D failed to mean much for me, this story was a revelation. Whether you decide to go in for the whole book or not, read "The Babysitter." Twice.
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Pricksongs and Descants was like nothing I've every read before and I liked it a lot. The writing was wonderful and the stories deliciously creepy, bizarre, and often disturbing. These stories are most certainly not your traditional children's tales and they are for the mature reader. I normally dislike short stories but I enjoyed these ones. I like strange, bizarre, and seemingly absurd books (perhaps this is why I like Kafka so much).

Pricksongs and Descants is metafiction. It's a book about fiction, short stories, and mythology. Coover challenges what we know about genre and story telling. In this book, he takes pieces of biblical stories, fairytales, and popular myths and reworks them in a way that makes them almost unrecognizable. In the process he plays with both narrative structure and content. It's a book that is the exemplification of experimental literature. One story, "The Babysitter," is essentially 20 stories in one because Coover is constantly interrupting the narrative flow to present multiple possible versions of what happens. Is it a horror story or just an average and boring night? Coover challenges what we know, or what we think we know, at every twist and turn. In some cases we are simply along for the ride and in other cases we are the ones who decide how to interpret the story.

I loved the way that Coover's stories were so different in tone, style, perspective from one to the next. In several stories he pulls the reader in the narrative (the Leper), making us wonder how we are complicit in the story. I liked the experimental nature of the stories and how he deconstructed what we normally view as fiction or fairy tales. And the writing!
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Format: Paperback
Published in 1969, this collection of short stories could only have appeared in America at the end of a decade as turbulent as the sixties. The influence of that decade and all the stress it forced upon a comfortable America emerging from a comfortable 1950's- the assassination of JFK, the war in Vietnam, the rise and influence of psychedelic drugs, an emerging sexual freedom, riots in our cities- while not explicitly present in this collection of witty and masterful pieces, presides over every word and story. The anxiety and sense of danger that the sixties imposed upon the United States oozes from page one all the way through to the unsettling finish.
The book starts off with the familiar- fairy tales- only they read nothing like the ones we were raised on. Then we're off to a deserted island where two lone females encounter strange men and magic fireplace pokers. Or do they? Nothing happens to them and yet everything happens to them. In another story, a babysitter gets raped, molested, accidentally drowns the baby, and falls asleep watching television- all at the same time.
In every story, at every chance he gets, author Robert Coover challenges what we, the reader, think we know about what is going on and then presents a completely different scenario. It is clever, the word play is rapid and at times dizzying, and while it may feel at times that Coover is simply a magician pulling the wool over our eyes (an accusation he addresses in the final story, about a magician who attempts to pull the wool over the audience's eyes), his writing is so confident that he essentially gets away with whatever literary trick he attempts to pull.
Biblical stories are reinterpreted.
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