Read Pricksongs and Descants by Robert Coover Online


Pricksongs & Descants, originally published in 1969, is a virtuoso performance that established its author - already a William Faulkner Award winner for his first novel - as a writer of enduring power and unquestionable brilliance, a promise he has fulfilled over a stellar career. It also began Coover's now-trademark riffs on fairy tales and bedtime stories. In these rPricksongs & Descants, originally published in 1969, is a virtuoso performance that established its author - already a William Faulkner Award winner for his first novel - as a writer of enduring power and unquestionable brilliance, a promise he has fulfilled over a stellar career. It also began Coover's now-trademark riffs on fairy tales and bedtime stories. In these riotously word-drunk fictional romps, two children follow an old man into the woods, trailing bread crumbs behind and edging helplessly toward a sinister end that never comes; a husband walks toward the bed where his wife awaits his caresses, but by the time he arrives she's been dead three weeks and detectives are pounding down the door; a teenaged babysitter's evening becomes a kaleidoscope of dangerous erotic fantasies-her employer's, her boyfriend's, her own; an aging, humble carpenter marries a beautiful but frigid woman, and after he's waited weeks to consummate their union she announces that God has made her pregnant. Now available in a Grove paperback, Pricksongs & Descants is a cornerstone of Robert Coover's remarkable career and a brilliant work by a major American writer....

Title : Pricksongs and Descants
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ISBN : 9780802136671
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
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Pricksongs and Descants Reviews

  • Ian
    2019-02-06 16:08

    Legendary NarrativesThis collection of early stories is not a lesser work in any way. In it, Coover maps out the journey that his writing career would subsequently follow. It announces and displays his early ambition and skill.It reflects a dual interest in the subject matter of fiction and its methodology. As Coover says of some of his stories, in retrospect:"...great narratives remain meaningful through time as a language-medium between generations, as a weapon against the fringe-areas of our consciousness, and as a mythic reinforcement of our tenuous grip on reality. "The novelist uses familiar mythic or historical forms to combat the content of those forms and to conduct the reader to the real, away from mystification to clarification, away from magic to maturity, away from mystery to revelation. "And it is above all to the need for new modes of perception and fictional forms able to encompass them that I, barber's basin on my head, address these stories."The Interpolation of the [Post-] ModernCoover tells his stories within the framing device of other stories, of myths and legends, of fairy tales and parables.Fairy tales, in particular, are often written with great economy, perhaps because they formed part of an oral tradition in which they were memorised and recounted from generation to generation for the benefit of the young.Their economy leaves Coover scope to interpolate modernity into the tradition of the fairy tale. Transposed to the contemporary, he fleshes his tales out with "pricks and cunts". In doing so, he reminds us how much fairy tales have always been concerned with sexuality (especially the fear of seduction, abduction, rape, murder and the premature loss of virginity), thus making explicit what was formerly and formally implicit.Some Titular HypothesesThis concern is signaled in the title of the collection, which adapts an expression used by "Granny" in the first story, a prologue of sorts:"I know who's got her giddy ear with his old death-cunt-and-prick-songs..."The idea of a "death-cunt" (a "black hole", in the words of Rikki Ducornet) is a "perception of the female body as seduction, a lethal detour of the spirit leading to enslavement; the cunt as snare, prison and coffin."(view spoiler)[See Rikki Ducornet’s "The Death Cunt of Dell": (hide spoiler)]This is the myth that Coover inverts in the word "Descant" in the title of this collection.A "descant" is a musical term:* etymologically, the word means a voice (cantus) above or removed from others;* A discant (occasionally, particularly later, written descant) is a form of medieval music in which one singer sang a fixed melody, and others accompanied with improvisations;* Hymn tune descants are counter-melodies, generally at a higher pitch than the main melody.'s possible that Coover uses the male melody as the base "pricksong" and the female melody as the higher-pitched "descant".Perhaps, the male is the call and the female the response. Or in the words of John Cleland's "Fanny Hill" cited by Coover in the epigraph, "He thrusts, she heaves."How Male is Thy Tale?At first blush, it seems that much of the subject matter of these stories relates to the male libido. Like authors themselves, the male characters are "picaros [who] sally forth…to discover again and again, their manhood." Coover could therefore clearly anticipate how a male reader’s mind might respond to his narrative. However, it's quite possible (though I don't know and couldn't be confident), that a female reader’s response might be totally different. She could even be offended. I'm guessing not though, given the sympathy that writers like Angela Carter had with Coover's subject matter and style. Plus at times (e.g., "The Babysitter"), it’s not clear whose fantasies are being described at any one moment. It could equally be a male or a female. The Collective UnconsciousCoover seems to be suggesting that we are all, to some extent, carnal, and this becomes most apparent in our conscious and subconscious fantasies (which many of us don’t reveal to others). To the extent that pornography is an attempt to satiate our fantasies, Coover mimics the methodology of porn, though usually tongue-in-cheek. In fact, he often seems to hint that he has been observing us, like Nabokov, as we've been watching and entertained by his characters.Even when Coover’s tales are at their most realistic (sometimes almost, but not quite, hyper-realistic), there is a sense that he’s accessing and documenting our collective unconscious. He opens doors and windows on other worlds that bit by bit become our worlds. He takes us:"... Down forbidden alleys. Into secret passageways. Unlocking the world's terrible secrets...Careful! Look out!"The Extrapolation of the ReaderThese imagined worlds are obviously Coover's worlds, his inventions. He has created them and he is in control. But he's not obsessive, he's not a control freak. The stories towards the end of this collection are alternating snippets of narrative and consciousness. Coover separates them with interstitial space that he invites us to fill with our own extrapolations. Crucially, he leaves enough time and space for our imaginations to work. The reader is part of the construction and the entertainment: "…at times I forget that this arrangement is my invention." Our thought processes shoot off at tangents. However, as the story progresses, we realise that the tangents have been directed or, at least, guided by Coover. Certainly, he has predicted what we would think, because later developments enact what we foreshadowed. It’s as if we started looking around a room, then our eyes wandered up and down the walls, until we realised that we are gazing into a mirror that Coover is holding up to us.By the time we recognise ourselves, we have almost become Coover’s creations in our own right:"Who invented this map? Well, I must have, surely...just as I have invented you, dear reader, while lying here in the afternoon sun, bedded deeply in the bluegreen grass like an old iron poker..."The Character as a Fabrication of the AuthorCoover often draws attention, self-consciously, to his role as author in the text. He says of his characters:"... it is indeed I who burdens them with curiosity and history, appetite and rhetoric. If they have names and griefs, I have provided them. In fact, without me, they'd have no cunts. This is not meant to alarm...merely to make a truth manifest - yet I am myself somewhat alarmed." Then, later, as the characters and reader take control of the narrative, i.e., in the sense that the author seems to retreat or become less obvious, Coover reminds us (with his characteristic sense of humour):"I am some no doubt calculable formula of event and pagination..."There is a risk that both work and author might turn out to be ephemeral. We might not be here for a long time, as long as we have a good time:"He collapses to his knees and scribbles in the snow with his finger…I DID THIS…but soon is laughing so violently that he spills headfirst down into the snow and rolls about in it."The Author as a FabulatorCoover makes much of his affection for and indebtedness to Cervantes’ "Don Quixote", which complied with "that most solemn and pious charge placed upon this vocation: they tell good stories and they tell them well."Yet, Cervantes’ tales achieved something more serious, which is still relevant today:"…your stories also exemplified the dual nature of all good narrative art: they struggled against the unconscious mythic residue in human life and sought to synthesise the unsynthesisable, sallied forth against adolescent thought-modes and exhausted art forms, and returned home with new complexities.""Don Quixote" remains a precedent, an exemplar for the most playful form of the novel, which he describes as an exercise of the imagination. Quoting Robert Scholes’ "The Fabulators", he says:"…fiction must provide us with an imaginative experience which is necessary to our imaginative well-being...we need all the imagination we have, and we need it exercised and in good condition…"Permanent RevolutionStill, there is no guarantee that the novel or any novel will last, that it will be eternal. Everything that exists might be ephemeral. Critics are forever predicting or lamenting the demise of the novel, the decline in literacy, the closing of the mind, the exhaustion of the imagination. For Coover, the novel is a revolutionary form, not just a bourgeois one. It is not enough that it remain, in Hegel's words, "the epic of the middle-class world". Coover believes that, for the novel to survive and thrive and be of value, it must forever be subverted. It must be continually radicalised, reinvented, re-created, reimagined, replenished (to appropriate a word John Barth has used in this context).In an eerily perfect scene, Coover cautions us about just how much we would lose (and how easily we might lose it), if an exclusive preoccupation with law and order and logic and tradition prevailed over creativity and invention and novelty and playfulness, and we could no longer indulge or harness our imaginations. A policeman stands over a wayfarer who, like Camus' stranger, refuses to break his silence and therefore arouses suspicion and hatred:"And then he spoke. He spoke rapidly, desperately, with neither punctuation nor sentence structure. Just a ceaseless eruption of obtuse language. He spoke of constellations, bone structures, mythologies, and love. He spoke of belief and lymph nodes, of excavations, categories and prophecies. Faster and faster he spoke. His eyes gleamed. Harmonics! Foliations! Etymology! Impulses! Suffering! His voice rose to a shriek. Immateriality patricide ideations heat-stroke virtue predication - I grew annoyed and shot him in the head. At last, with this, he fell...My job was done...I felt calm and happy. A participant. I enjoy my work."The novel is the sound of the breakthrough, the release, the rush, the energy that occurs when civilisation and stories and people break their silence. Here, in this world of the mind, anything could happen.SOUNDTRACK:The Clean - "Anything Could Happen"

  • MJ Nicholls
    2019-02-11 21:20

    One of the milestones, or pilestones, in self-reflexive fiction, the influence of Pricksongs & Descants among the subsequent two generations of humorous imps, genrebenders, and transgressive egomaniacs in experimental prose fiction, is plain to see. Metafantastical fables, reworkings of reworkings, forking paths and fucking piths, numerical mini-chapters, self-regarding scoundrels for narrators, black humour, mindless surrealism, incomprehensible but entertaining indulgences, sneaky s-o-c, shock fodder, minxish moralising . . . these are the realm of Coover, whose exuberance, relentlessness, inventiveness, comic spirit, is unflushable, and whose tireless endless exhausting books and stories keep coming like a waterfall of perverted warpedness. Among my personal pleasures, the ‘Seven Exemplary Fictions’ in homage to Cervantes, the stomach-plummeting weirdness of ‘The Elevator,’ the carnival craziness of ‘Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady,’ and the comedy of ‘A Pedestrian Accident.’ The other stories in here were too Cooverian in their oddity, tedious, incoherent, or simply unfunny.

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-01-31 17:03

    So farewell forever, then, to metafiction. This is the stuff where it says I wander the island, inventing it. I make a sun for it, and trees, and cause water to lap the pebbles of its abandoned shores.which is how The Magic Poker kicks off in this volume. Metafiction - yeah, that's right - it's fiction about fiction, celebrating the lying truthfulness and the truthful lies we all need to keep our brains glued together. Apparently. I mean, I don't really know, I just work here.Now, you know those trailers for movie comedies which are hugely amusing with a couple of great jokes and you sprint to the cinema when it comes out and you sit through the thing only to find that the two jokes you saw in the trailer were the only actual jokes in the whole movie and the rest of it was 87 minutes of rising aggravation and insulted intelligence mollified only by smuggled-in licorish allsorts (I'm not paying your prices, you ripoff front of house manager!) - well Robert Coover's book is like that. I'd read the two good ones which are "A Pedestrian Accident" and "The Babysitter" and both are brilliant. But that's it. One of the major problems with metafiction - this goes for the immensely better Donald Barthelme too - is that the whole tone of it is smirky, like someone telling you a story they think is really really funny whilst keeping a straight face, but you can't see where the humour is. Also metawriters are in love with fairy tales and myths and are forever running uninteresting riffs on them like a jazz saxophonist taking some standard like My Favourite Things out for yet another ten minute noodle. We can live long and happy lives without it.Back to reality!

  • Brian
    2019-02-17 16:24

    In his piece "For Bob" collected in the 2012 The Review of Contemporary Fiction dedicated to Coover, author Joe Ashby Porter says about his first encounter with this book: " so bowled me over I had to teach it to understand it better." A perfect explanation to how this collection of stories feels upon the first reading.Coover does more than deconstruct familiar myths and fairy tales - he was one of those first writers that wanted to do something more with the structure of fiction. Some of these pieces might appear uneven and unstable, but it is pure jazz (tip o' the hat to N.R.) and perhaps as readers we aren't intended to totally get it.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-02-03 17:30

    He pronounces it aloud, smiles faintly, sadly, somewhat wearily, then continues his tedious climb, pausing from time to time to stare back down the stairs behind him.When the time arrives for resolution, I will be there. One day soon the followers of Coover will engage those of Barth tooth and claw. There will be no quarter. The scene will remind us of Bangkok and we will wear the shirt of Coover proudly. Through the tear-gas and vitriol we will triumph. Our cause will prevail because of the brilliance of The Magic Poker and The Babysitter. These two exercises astonish in their smutty Impressionism. It will be admitted that I was sometimes too impatient or ill-equipped to truly delight in all of the pieces presented here. Where Barth paints with manic glee about Story, Coover recycles his own variations, distilling a Gestalt where the dross whispers of all outcomes and the reader's imagination trembles in capacity. Hope remains --and victory will be ours. Coover Rules!

  • Vit Babenco
    2019-01-31 13:32

    Pricksongs & Descants is mostly about the power of human imagination…“That sweep odour that girls have. The softness of her blouse. He catches a glimpse of the gentle shadows amid her thighs, as she curls her legs up under her.”Imagination is rich but it plays dirty... And that’s a reason so many prefer to live an imaginary life in a realm where everyone can be a king.“He loves her. She loves him. And then the babies come. And dirty nappies and one goddamn meal after another. Dishes. Noise. Clutter. And fat...”That’s the real life. Who wants it?

  • Katie
    2019-02-18 15:06

    Holy shit! This is some crazy something. All the edgy writers that young folk like us like? They don't have shit on this guy. Seriously, my reviews are just utterly devolving. At any rate...literally every fundamental aspect of fiction is toyed with in here: characterization, timeline, voice, perspective. The overall effect is one of complete disorientation, but it's the hardest my brain has had to work to read a book in a long while, and that (to me) is valuable as hell.

  • Cody
    2019-02-04 19:12

    Dear Robert,It was great seeing you again. It’s been sooo long. It was nice to catch-up with one another after, what, 20-years (god, that makes me feel so old!)? Anywho…as hard as it is for me to bring myself to do so, there are some things I ought to say.Namely, I’m talking about your prick(songs). It had been so long since I’d even thought about your prick(songs) that the idea of revisiting it, well, you know, just seemed kinda fun. But I see now that you really can’t go back. Let’s not kid ourselves; ain’t a one of us that’s a teenager anymore. (Honestly, I did love your prick(songs) so much then.)But this is genuinely one of them cases of it’s not you, it’s me, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’m just a different person right now. Since we’re being honest, I’m just sort of playing the field and having a big ol’ ball. Just this week I went out with a fella named Darconville (and his cat) three nights in a row and I tell you it was amazing. He was so original and funny and just everything that I’m looking for in a beau right now. Now don’t let that detract from the sizable heft of your prick(songs) and its accomplishments. Like I said, it’s me and not you.You know how much I love you and Bruney and Burny, Bob— it’s just that your prick(songs) didn’t feel right this time. Don’t take that to mean that it won’t ever feel right again. Lord knows how much your prick(songs) meant to me when I was young. Thing is, I kinda got a line on this Latin fella name a Borges right now. Thinking about spending some time with him. Would you believe it? A Latin! Me! Mother would just die. XOXO,CodyPS. I promised myself I wasn’t going to bring it up, but since we’re being honest, well, here goes: I thought that the penis joke you made over dinner was incredibly inappropriate, especially for people our age. Really, there's only so many jokes one can make about their manhood before you start questioning what they're compensating for. There, I feel better. [Seriously: “Quenby and Ola, Swede and Carl” and “The Babysitter” are stunningly disturbing.]

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-02-08 16:06

    I liken this to a circus, with lots of stunts and acrobatics.So as not to get discouraged or intimidated, skip the first "story" (I should call the stories here more properly as ACTS--like in a real circus) "The Door" because it is not easy to digest (my interpretation of it is that it is some kind of an inter-generational dialogue using the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk as a literary allusion). Go straight to some of the favorites, like "The Babysitter." The characters and the setting: a father, his wife, their three young children one of whom is just a baby. Father and mother going to a party nearby. They're leaving the kids with a young and pretty babysitter who likes to bathe in the couple's bathtub surreptitiously after she had finished attending to the kids' needs. Just outside, however, is her boyfriend and his pal waiting for the couple to leave.While at the party the father of the kids thinks of a good excuse to leave it so he can drop by their house and maybe surprise the babysitter naked in their bathtub. He has the hots for her. So with the babysitter's boyfriend's pal. He wants to have a threesome with the babysitter and the boyfriend inside the couple's house. Now that's the situation. So what's the story? Wrong question. What are the STORIES? That's much better.Imagine parallel universes of different events and outcomes but with the same characters and situation. And imagine the events in these parallel universes televised and you watching these events simultaneously with just a normal pair of eyes. You can't watch all of them all of the time. All you can do is to snippets of the unfolding events one at a time in each tv screen. A virtual overload of visual stimulation which, strangely, I found highly erotic.You want pathos instead? Try "A Pedestrian Accident." A man is run over be a motor vehicle and lies on the road. He's still alive, very much conscious, can hear everything, in pain, has an acute sense of everything within his field of vision, but cannot talk. Coover surrounds him with oddball characters with their infuriating actions and dialogues. Then feel death coming for this hapless victim."The Marker" involves something we all have here at goodreads: a bookmark. But no one is reading here. Instead, we have a man, his wife and, later, five policemen. First, the wife gets naked and invitingly lies in bed inside their bedroom. Her husband then takes off his clothes, puts off the light, then feels himself towards the bed in total darkness. He found the bed only after several tries. He inserts it in, felt dry, nevertheless kisses her and he smells something bad. Lights on: enters the five policemen. The wife had been dead for weeks and the husband sees himself in coitus with a smelly cadaver. Now what about the bookmark? Why the title? I can't spoil your fun by answering these questions. Read it.There are many others to choose from, each "story" a madness of a different strain. The last one is entitled "The Hat Act" (see? they're ACTS) with a magician as the principal protagonist. Quite apropos since each of the acts in this book is nothing short of magical.

  • James
    2019-02-09 14:17

    3.5/5 stars This was a case of my personal connection with a book not lining up with the work's real impact or excellence. Despite my miserly three star rating, I would recommend reader give Pricksongs and Descants a try. In fact, if I was just going to rate the book on innovation it would get 4.5 stars. My favorite stories were: Quenby and Ola, Swede and Carl; a Pedestrian Accident; the show stopping The Babysitter and the retelling of the story of Noah.The retelling of Noah is shocking and tragic while providing a glimpse of the biting edge we see later in The Public Burning. A Pedestrian Accident is an absurd story of a man with a broken neck somewhat reminiscent of Barthelme and Beckett. The other two stories use a technique whereby every potential angle of the story is turned towards the light and examined. It's the literary equivalent of John Coltrane taking a 12 minute solo to run every single idea in his head into a corner, working and re-working themes and motifs until he reached the exhaustion point. Coover uses the storytelling style on four or five pieces in this collection, but it reaches its high point in The Babysitter. In fact, if you're on the fence about reading this collection, check it out from the library, skip to page 206 and have at it. If you're not ready to read more after that then it just might not be up your alley, but at the very least you will have had the chance to experience something new and vital in fiction.

  • Sentimental Surrealist
    2019-02-07 18:14

    Coover, wearing a top hat, drives down the street in a hummer, windows rolled down. He's got an MP3 file of his contradictions, recited by Brian Blessed - "ROBERT COOOOOOOOOOO-VUH! The FOLKSSSSY intell-ECT-ual! The chi-chi-chi... CHILLY... (stage whisper) pornographer. Teller of BEDTIIIIIIIME STORIIIESSSSSSSS.... AAAAAAAANNND... horror stories!" He's doing 50 in a 35 zone, but he's bored by that, so he floors it and swerves back and forth across the street, pancaking other cars and busting up parking meters; a trail of coins flies in his wake, which pedestrians scoop up. The hood of his hummer is painted with - what else? - a couple engaged in the most grotesque sex imaginable, their bodies exaggerated so horridly that no one but the most devoted fetishists could find either of them attractive. He runs over a pedestrian on his rampage, but saves the poor man by lifting the car up. The grateful pedestrian scampers off. Coover looks around and realizes the destruction he has caused, leaps into his magic hat, and comes out with the tools necessary to fix the problem. If you can put up with the flat characters (mostly abstractions in the postmodern tradition), Pricksongs is wicked and violent fun. "The Hat Act" and "The Magic Poker" are major achievements in American metafiction, "The Babysitter" is demented and disgusting cubist horror, and it's hard not to laugh at "A Pedestrian Accident" if yours is a dark sense of humor. Just make sure to wear a seatbelt at all times, because you could always fly out of Coover's hummer and crack your head open on the concrete.

  • Simon Robs
    2019-02-17 20:32

    So like being Robert Coover, in his head that is, the mind rather, he who brought forth these storied oddities reminds me comically of "Being John Malkovich" where someone takes over and makes you do nutty things and then spits you out in a drainage pipe withered, sullied and bewildered. These tales are each a Diane Arbus street photo of some homely sort, bent, disfigured and strangely loveable. I would suggest they be read intermittently between other readings to cleanse the palette of your reading mind opening a fresh space from one book to another. Matzo ball soup with frog legs sticking up out of and a pinky ring on one toe. Quirk de jour!

  • Andrew
    2019-01-24 15:20

    It's rare to find a short story collection where every story hits a high note for me, but Coover's done it. Each one is a fabulist gem set in a terrifyingly recognizable world.I get the feeling that not too many people read Coover anymore, which is a crying shame. After I plowed through Vonnegut as a teenager, I made the next logical step to Pynchon and Barth, and from there discovered the whole wide world of postmodernist fiction, including Coover. I'm buying my 17 year old brother a copy of this one.

  • Jen
    2019-02-02 19:04

    Pricksongs and Descants is a collection of short stories by Robert Coover that was originally published in 1969. The stories are retellings of popular stories including fairy tales, bedtime stories, and a few biblical stories. The Amazon synopsis states the following: "In these riotously word-drunk fictional romps, two children follow an old man into the woods, trailing bread crumbs behind and edging helplessly toward a sinister end that never comes; a husband walks toward the bed where his wife awaits his caresses, but by the time he arrives she's been dead three weeks and detectives are pounding down the door; a teenaged babysitter's evening becomes a kaleidoscope of dangerous erotic fantasies-her employer's, her boyfriend's, her own; an aging, humble carpenter marries a beautiful but frigid woman, and after he's waited weeks to consummate their union she announces that God has made her pregnant." I read this book as part of the Shelfari 1001 group's Books of the Month and I was the only one (thus far) who liked the book. Unlike the others who read this book, I really enjoyed the experience of reading this collection. The writing was wonderful and the stories deliciously creepy, bizarre, and often disturbing. I also 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). I can't say I spent too much time thinking about the symbolism behind the stories but I just enjoyed the process of reading because Coover challenges this process at every twist and turn. One of the stories, "The Babysitter" was an interesting experimentation in the multiple ways a story could unfold although it wasn't my favorite in terms of content. I enjoyed 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. What made this book special to me was the way that Coover played around with genre and narrative structure, deconstructing the very stories that form the fabric of our own societal mythology.It was unlike anything I've read on the 1001 list and I quite enjoyed it.

  • Ronald Morton
    2019-02-20 17:12

    I know, since it’s Coover, that I’m supposed to be a bit more awed by this book than I am.I don’t want to say that it’s aged poorly, or even that it feels aged – neither of these things are true. It’s just that, reading this in 2014 is (I’m assuming) considerably different than reading it in 1969. So it’s not that it feels aged, it’s just that, under the weight of the last 45 years, it doesn’t really feel as revelatory as it must have upon its publication.The thing is: it’s still good. It’s still a strong collection, though it suffers a bit, mostly through its inconsistency. Some of these stories are excellent – in fact, I’d say it starts with a couple of great pieces and ends with a couple of excellent pieces. Let me just go ahead and stop and say, if you’re struggling to keep up your interest in the book, I’d advise you just go ahead and skip to the end and read the last two stories, which are by far the stand out works in the collection. Really, you owe it to yourself.The best stuff here is either the patently absurd or the excessively meta-fictional. The ones that bog the collection down play themselves too straight, and are not interesting or compelling enough to hold the reader’s attention, even in their brevity. Two of the strongest works in the collection both employ a sort of overlapping narrative structure – both driven by different mechanisms – that allows multiple stories – branches, alleyways and all – to exist side by side, until they sort of tumble into each other in a tangle. They remain strong, fresh, and effective even now.It’s probably not a surprising comparison, but this reminded me a great deal of Lost in the Funhouse, though Barth is considerably freer in letting the absurdity and experimentation run wild, and, as such, this work pales a bit in comparison. Good – probably important – metafiction, but it’s done better by some of Coover’s peers.

  • Sean Masterson
    2019-02-04 21:18

    I decided to change my habits and read all short story collections straight through, rather than picking at them from time to time. My aim was to isolate each story and savour each paragraph. I was prompted to make this decision after tearing through all of George Saunders' work in a week (much the way I did when they made The Wire available on-demand). A year or so later someone asked me about a specific story, by title, and I couldn't remember a thing about it. Going cover-to-cover on this book has broken me of any desire to continue that method of reading. Laid out in these pages is a brilliant takedown of convention. Some arguments are made succinctly in individual stories, while others collide with one another, some violently, some lovingly. My favorites, or those that have stuck with me after putting the book down for a day or two, were: The Elevator, The Babysitter and The Brother. Its hard to suggest companion works as this piece comments on just about all the things that constitute all the things that preceded it. One story in particular, The Sentient Lens, leapt out at me as a commentary on Robbe-Grillet. His "For a New Novel" share the manifesto-like quality of Coover's work. I'd also add Grillet's Snapshots, an experiment, in the truest fashion and maybe not entirely successful, that perfectly illustrates the point that both authors are launching from. Their answers are very different: both valid. A longer post is required...

  • Ben Bush
    2019-01-26 19:14

    This was pretty great. It was the first Coover I'd read and I figured I'd start with the short stories in order to hopefully see the kind of widest range of experimentation. "The Magic Poker" was the story that to me was jaw-dropping but which uses a similar technique to "Babysitter" (which was adapted into an Alicia Silverstone movie.) Both stories have an interesting way of showing a wide range of possible outcomes almost simultaneously. Coover has a kind of interest in these non-linnear games that seemed related to his work in electronic literature and his Universal Baseball Assoc. book, which was a kind of proto-fantasy baseball thing. I also like Quenby, Ola, Swede and Carl quite a bit. Also, a lot of it is pretty sexy although it makes me feel a little dirty to say it. What I think works less well in here is some of the adaptations of fairy tales, which at the time was probably fairly innovative but now just feels played out, including in Coover's own work he seems to have flogged it like a dead horse. I enjoyed the sections read with undivided attention and a cup of coffee much more than those I tried to read on the bus.

  • Bob
    2019-02-16 18:10

    These postmodern surrealist short stories seem very typical of the late 60s (when the collection was released) but I'll have to read some of Coover's subsequent 15 novellas and novels, not to mention many more short stories, before making any further generalizations.I tend to compare writing like this to Donald Barthelme, solely because that's who I discovered first in this realm. Coover makes frequent use of myths and fairy tales as templates. There's a bit of an undertone of menace as someone has often just jumped off a building, been hit by a truck, or been sexually threatened. Several of these stories are structured in a way that suggest multiple simultaneous versions of the plot are unfolding in alternating paragraphs.

  • Kyle Callahan
    2019-02-02 15:24

    Robert Coover is impressive. Let’s start there. It’s not just his writing (which is good; not the best, but definitely good) and it’s not just his structural daring (which, judging by much of contemporary literature, is still ahead of its time, despite the fact that he’s been structurally daring for over thirty years now). No, what’s most impressive about Coover is his imagination. It’s the way he imagines a scene. The writing of it, that’s just how he brings the scene into his reader’s head. Good writers do that. They all do it differently, of course, but they all do it. What is impressive about Coover is that he imagines the scene at all.There are a lot of fucked up people out there. These people aren’t fucked up in the sense of having sex with dead bodies, but fucked up in the sense that, when asked to imagine the prospect of having sex with dead bodies, they are willing to be sympathetic towards the idea.“You understand of course…that I am not, in the strictest sense, a traditionalist. … On the other hand, I do not join hands with those who find inherent in tradition some malignant evil. … I am personally convinced…there is a middle road. … It spite of that, however, some things still make me puke! … Now get rid of that fucking corpse!” (“Seven Exemplary Fictions” 91).It takes a special kind of imagination, however, to create the idea in the first place. In Pricksongs & Descants, Coover has proven his ability to imagine such scenes almost at will. In “The Poker,” Coover introduces his reader to an abandoned island estate that may or may not be magically haunted. In “Morris in Chains,” Coover addresses the conflict between techno-influenced humanity and nature-influenced humanity through the former’s press release regarding the capture of a Pan-like shepherd named Morris. In “The Gingerbread House,” the tale of Hansel and Gretel becomes 42 dreadful and beautiful and numbered paragraphs. To continue the list is to continue the table of contents of Pricksongs & Descants, but within each item in that list, it would be possible to find some scene, some metaphor, some sentence, that only fucked up people could possibly enjoy.What hope there is in that!

  • Josh Luft
    2019-01-26 17:31

    4.5/5In Pricksongs and Descants, Robert Coover messes around with storytelling. The best works in this collection—"The Magic Poker", "The Gingerbread House", and one of the greatest short stories ever, "The Babysitter"—consist of partitioned paragraphs with variations of actions contained within a single story that give you this multi-dimensional/choose-your-own-adventure experience. His style of postmodernism, which, in several of the stories, involves the retelling of biblical and fairy tales, is smart and playful—as opposed to one of his contemporaries, John Barth, who, in Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera can come across as obvious, self-congratulatory, and obnoxious. Coover wants you to know what he's up to, but his prose and humor are so vibrant and engaging that the art of storytelling never trumps the storytelling itself.

  • Jordi Via
    2019-02-19 19:31

    Menuda lectura. Estos cuentos dejan poso, escenas que van a permanecer en mi memoria sin ninguna duda durante mucho tiempo y que me costará discernir si las vi en el cine o si fui yo quien las soñó. Además de la estructura, la manera de contar, esas narraciones laberínticas i reiterativas, como si estuvieras en mitad de una pesadilla, son de una extraordinaria originalidad teniendo en cuenta que se publicaron en 1969. Muy recomendable.

  • Brandon
    2019-02-06 13:09

    Most people seem to love "The Babysitter" the best, but I actually think "The Gingerbread House" is my favorite here. The book reminds me why I always found reading fairy tales so much fun, strange as they are. And Coover is always weird and funny, and he always has a great payoff.

  • Linda
    2019-01-25 19:21

    Every aspect of this metafiction is manipulated resulting in a cognitive dissonance that makes my brain ache. Or perhaps I just don't get it. 'The babysitter' was worth reading though.

  • Marcela
    2019-02-19 18:28

    A must read. He is an amazing writer.

  • Hana Alharastani
    2019-01-27 17:25

    1 star for form and style.

  • Frank
    2019-02-13 17:27

    An understanding reviewer might say experiments are necessary and that some are bound to go wrong. But in this case, the draft ought to have been buried in RC's file cabinet.

  • Deanne
    2019-02-14 16:10

    Enjoyed the Babysitter, which probably deserves more stars, but to be honest some of the other stories in the collection just seem to be padding.

  • Маx Nestelieiev
    2019-02-11 16:32

    One of the best story collection in US literature:The Door: A Prologue of Sorts 4*The Magic Poker 5*Morris in Chains 5*The Gingerbread House 4*Seven Exemplary Fictions 5*Dedicatoria y Prólogo a don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 3*1 Panel Game 5*2 The Marker 4*3 The Brother 5*4 In a Train Station 4*5 Klee Dead 3*6 J’s Marriage 5*7 The Wayfarer 3*The Elevator 4*Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady 4*Quenby and Ola, Swede and Carl 3*The Sentient Lens 5*1 Scene for ‘Winter’ 4*2 The Milkmaid of Samaniego 4*3 The Leper’s Helix 5*A Pedestrian Accident 3*The Babysitter 5*The Hat Act 4*

  • Noah
    2019-02-07 20:27

    I loved all the framented stories imagining fiction as permutations and imaginations and mashups of our unconscious. The Babysitter, Carl and Swede, The Elevator, the Hansel and Gretel one, The Magic Poker, all mind blowing and scary and sexy ways of plopping your unconscious on the table and playing around with it. Of the rest I mostly did not like them, though Hat Act and the train station one were good. Too preachy and obvious thematically while too difficult prose wise.

  • Lucian McMahon
    2019-02-08 14:16

    Couple good ones in here, but most haven't aged well. A lot of self-indulgent sixties metafiction and absurdism that seems more strained than anything else. But damn, the guy can write a good sentence.