Robert Coover: “Going for a Beer” from The New Yorker, 3/15/11

"Harold Angel" by Davis & Davis

"Harold Angel" by Davis & Davis

Time loops and spins in this very short story, available online, which begins: “He finds himself sitting in the neighborhood bar drinking a beer at about the same time that he began to think about going there for one.” I love this sort of thing.

In his interview, the author admits “sometimes anticipation follows event” – (aha! The Twin Photons of Geneva and subsequent experiments where effect preceded cause, and now anticipation follows event, quantum mechanics brought to life! [please do not confuse me with someone who knows what she is talking about when it comes to quantum theory, I only understand the broadest strokes and even them very vaguely]) and that “The play with time”‘s the thing. He also declines to discuss the story – “To expand on a story shaped by such contraction is to undo the story itself, not explain or clarify it, so I pass. But, yes, all our lives can (and mostly do) shrink to a few words. Ask anyone on his or her deathbed: How did I get here so fast? I’ve only just begun!” – and I’m wondering about such churlish interviews. Though I can see his point: this story is simple. As he says later, “It’s not the joke, but how you tell it.”

The story itself is very simple: engaged man picks up Kewpie Doll lover in a bar, marries her, endures some discomfort at work where his first fiancee also worked, has children, gets old, dies. I think it might’ve helped if this “joke” was a little more interesting, but how he told it is pretty good. I enjoy time paradoxes, folded-over timelines (as long as they are deliberate and not mistakes), obscured sequences, a la Heinlein, Asimov, and even Ishiguro (I still say The Unconsoled was a life-flashing-before-his-eyes deathbed scene, but I’ve been shouted down and outright laughed at for my naivete on that one).

The fun here is in how we think about something, we know it’s probably not a good idea, and we do it anyway. Sometimes it works out, though you can’t remember if you enjoyed the orgasm or not. Sometimes you end up surrounded by beheaded and dismembered kewpie dolls. Either way, you die in the end. Because that’s what we all do – remember that amazing early-on flash, “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood? “John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.” Others have recalled Cheever’s “The Swimmer” though I can’t think of that without bringing on nightmares about Burt Lancaster, thanks to a high school teacher who foolishly decided that students would respond more favorably to a movie than to actual words on a page. A later high school teacher thought the same thing about True Grit, ignoring the truism that when you throw John Wayne and Glen Campbell into the mix, you end up with something totally different from what you started with.

But back to “Going For a Beer.” I seem to have trouble staying on track; it’s a story that has to be read, because that’s where the fun is, not in a summary or analysis. It was a fun read. I enjoyed it. If it had been twice as long, I would’ve enjoyed it half as much.

2 responses to “Robert Coover: “Going for a Beer” from The New Yorker, 3/15/11

  1. Pingback: Fun with Search Terms! « A Just Recompense

  2. Pingback: Robert Coover: “Matinee” from The New Yorker, 7/25/2011 « A Just Recompense

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