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Ghost Town, by Robert Coover
Ghost Town, by Robert Coover
A nameless rider plods through the desert toward a dusty Western town shimmering on the horizon. In his latest novel, Robert Coover has taken the familiar form of the Western and turned it inside out. The lonesome stranger reaches the town - or rather, it reaches him - and he becomes part of its gunfights, saloon brawls, bawdy houses, train robberies, and, of course, the choice between the saloon chanteuse or the sweet-faced schoolmistress whom he loves. Throughout, Robert Coover reanimates the Western epics of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, infusing them with the Beckettian echoes, unique comic energy, and exuberant prose that have made him one of the most influential figures in contemporary American literature. It is, as The Washington Post Book World put it, "a fast-forward, ribald vision of the American West, a free-for-all that slides from surreal to ridiculous like a circus-goer's grin through a funhouse mirror . . . a heady frisson, a salon entertainment, one helluva ride."
Cross Cormac McCarthy with Eugene Ionesco and you might get something like Robert Coover's Ghost Town. The hero of this spaghetti Western is an unnamed cowboy riding along through a "vast empty plain, where nothing seems to have happened yet and yet everything seems already over...." Exhausted and parched, he sets his sights across the distant horizon only to find himself overtaken--literally--by a small, seemingly deserted little town. With the immutable logic of a dream, he becomes caught up in a strange, disjointed chain of events, in which drunken gamblers declare him sheriff and a saloon chanteuse stakes him out for her own. Meanwhile, the cowboy carries a torch for a melancholy, pale-faced woman known as the schoolmarm, who has a disturbing propensity for correcting his grammar while slapping his face. If, after wandering through Ghost Town's bloody streets for a while, readers find themselves suspecting that this is one of them newfangled metafictions, Coover will not disappoint. He plants the requisite empty plain-empty page analogies, and the book's denouement is nothing less than sexuality and textuality in a showdown at high noon. But there is more here than mere postmodern pastiche. Coover writes with prodigious intellectual energy and quicksilver wit; his sentences are never less than surprising, and often possess a sublime beauty all their own. As for his take on the genre's conventions, Coover may have struck closer to home than we think. Long stretches of tedium interrupted by flashes of hallucinatory violence: in its own bizarre way, Ghost Town might be the most realistic depiction of the Old West in a very long time. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A nameless drifter rides into a ghost town from a desolate wilderness. His horse wanders off. Hearing noises in the saloon, he enters to find a crew playing poker, a humpback at the piano and a red-haired chanteuse pitching a doleful melody. These pop tropes, culled from westerns and dirty jokes, are trademark Coover material. As you'd expect, things rapidly shift?the humpback becomes a deputy, the drifter a sheriff, the poker-playing crew now a posse, now a lynch mob. As in A Night at the Movies, persons and places are variables in an equation and have a tendency to rapidly shuck identities, while their relationships, ossified in the cliches where Coover found them, remain constant. The chanteuse and the schoolmarm seem to be the only characters who are anchored in the real world, but don't bet on it. This novel is written in the Davy Crockett English Coover employed with devastating wit in The Public Burning ("Us proper ladies jest ain't habituated t'sechlike incivil misabuse," "I tole him he wuz a rat for stealin thet hoss," etc.), but here the jokiness is forced, and the language never takes off. Coover's career is divided between the genius who wrote The Public Burning and most of Gerald's Party and the smarty-pants who wrote Spanking the Maid and parts of Pinocchio in Venice. The smarty-pants knows all too much about literary theory but can't distinguish between a sneer and a laugh. The genius, on the other hand, like a lyrical W.C. Fields, taps into the rudiments of liberation submerged in the lamest practical joke. Sad to say, the smarty-pants runs this town.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
ABOUT ROBERT COOVER
Robert Coover has published fourteen novels, three books of short fiction, and a collection of plays since The Origin of the Brunists received the William Faulkner Foundation First Novel Award in 1966. His short fiction has appeared in the NewYorker,Harper's, and Playboy, amongst many other publications.