Spanking the Maid – 3/5 Stars
One thing I like about Robert Coover is that I take him seriously as a writer, even when he’s being hilarious. This novel isn’t exactly hilarious, though ironic, but still requires me to pay attention to his language in careful ways. The second novel I will be reviewing does so even more.
This is a strange meditation on modes of power. Ostensibly it’s the day in and day out occurences in a a domestic battle between a male employer and his female maid, for whom he finds daily and escalating reasons to “spank” her (read as punishment for transgression with some sexual but not overt desirous motivations behind him) to help maintain the order of his household. The writing itself is written as a kind of postmodern stream of conscious, wherein I mean a narration in which the omniscient narrator takes on the inner processes of the mind being investigating without actually being that mind itself. So it’s not the Benji or Quentin sections of The Sound and the Fury, but a voice inhabiting and observing a mind and describing its workings. The mind of the houseowner is becoming more and more insistent on order (in his life) and comes to speak for powers of labor and class, sexual power, military power in the form of the violence itself, and possibly, but not definitely racial power over the woman he’s beating. The beatings are not expressly sexual, but they happen over legs purposely devoid of stockings and sometimes using a pizzle stick as the weapon of choice. The effect is a weird, short, ruminative escalation of the power for the sake of power that we later learn a kind of source for.
Ghost Town – 3/5 Stars
This is another of Coover’s short books and like Spanking the Maid demands your attention. It’s written in a oddly convoluted but also clipped style. What this means is that the narration involved long, drawn out sentences, but the phrases are short and turn on one another, so that the sentences require careful parsing as you read to make clear sense of things. Also the dialog is written without quotation marks, which can be frustrating, but they help fold into the narration this way. The dialog is far-flung from the narration style. The narration is competent and fluent while the dialog is written in cowboy patois. False patois too as the novel is literally nothing but a series of tropes of westerns poured into a centrifuge so that the essence, concentrated and toxic, is separated and then rewritten as the whole story.
It’s called Ghost Town and in part takes place in one, but also, the novel itself is a Ghost Town of narrative forms. It’s almost like a real life West World built and fabricated but also attempting to be real. Or more like the world envisioned by the Northern strange in Stephen Crane’s “The Blue Hotel”…that is the Western as it was dreamed of, but never really was. It’s pure concentrated Western hokum.
This makes the novel incredibly weird and funny, but also ridiculous and unserious. Like Spanking the Maid, it’s also a treatise of narration and violence, and power.