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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

FUNDAMENTALS Robert Coover, Spanking the Maid (Heinemann) £8.95

Throughout his career, Robert Coover has explored the way in which life is strangled by habit. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968) shows how the projection of a fictional world based around a parlour dice-game saps the life of its inventor and is a metaphor for the way in which story-telling itself can become a deadly process. In The Marker, which appears in the collection, Pricksongs and Descants (1969), a man who is reading a book is called on by his wife to make love to her. He places a marker in the book, turns off the light and crosses to her bed. In the dark, the bed is not where he expects it to be. After stumbling around he manages to locate her by following her laughter but, suddenly, the lights are turned on and he discovers that he is making love to a decomposing corpse. Books can be murderous.

Sex, repetition, dead bodies, and the nature of writing are Coover's trademarks, and Spanking the Maid is a condensation of those earlier themes. Much more formal in its design than the chaotic monster, Gerald's Party, this little book brings Coover back into line with those writers for whom literature is a kind of game. It is a particularly ludic examination of rules, repetition, and the desire for perfection; a parable of order and disorder which grafts itself onto the contours of French-style boudoir pornography (and here Coover shows his allegiance to Robbe-Grillet). ...


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