Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Short-a-Day: Robert Coover's "Going For A Beer"

Originally published in The New Yorker, March 14th, 2011. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 53.

Coover, he of the experimental concept stories. Here's a life, told through the vague and gauzy view of a drunkard, always lapsing in and out of consciousness, years passing by in a flash, and perhaps that's not so much different from our own sober lives, in some respect, in that suddenly days, weeks, years have passed, and what of it? "Well . . . you know . . . life, he says to the nurse who has come to pull the sheet over his face and wheel him away," ends this one-page story. I can't help but compare this, unfavorably, to Jonathan Safran Foer's "Here We Aren't, So Quickly," which ran last June. The sentences there were rich with details; here, because of the character, they're sort of muddled and shrugged off. Which is, I suppose, one way of looking at life, but perhaps I'm a beer half full sort of guy, and this is a half empty sort of tale. Still, it succeeds at what it (unambitiously, perhaps) wants to do, and the jarring jumps in time are at least an interesting device:

He decides that it's time to call the affair off -- she's driving him crazy -- but then the brawny dude turns up at their wedding and apologizes for the pounding he gave him.

Life is sort of funny that way, all things considered, once you compress it. There is, however, one weak section in which the protagonist

decides to check whether he still has the job that he had when he first met her. He does. His absence, if he has been absent, is not remarked on, but he is not congratulated on his marriage either, no doubt because -- it comes back to him now -- before he met his wife he was engaged to one of his colleagues and their co-workers had already thrown them an engagement party, so they must resent the money they spent on gifts.

This is a bit confusing, and petty, and perhaps redundant in the scope of what the rest of the story is already achieving in its narrow focus on bars and beds. But later, when I don't remember this story, will it matter? In any case, for those interested in just how diverse Coover's style is, check out his story from Harper's last July, "The War Between Sylvania and Freedonia," which was, incidentally the first of these posts I made.


Tim said...

It reminded me of "Here We Aren't, So Quickly" as well; but Coover's story was gritty and depressing, while Safran Foer's was more wistful. You can read more here

Aaron Riccio said...

Thanks for the link and the read, Tim; I fully admit that I go more for charm and whimsy than grit and sorrow (though McCarthy pulls it off). I agree about the length, though I do insist -- from an editorial perspective -- that Coover could've tightened this one paragraph up.

It crosses my mind, though, that I do like what you call "surreal motion" as a unreliable narrative mode. I never read the Nolan short, but Memento has that quality to it.