‘Going for a Beer’ by Robert Coover

What I love about this one is its speed. Skipping with bravura comic energy from one half-apprehended event to the next, ‘Going for a Beer’ tells the story of a life in a little over 1,000 words, and in the time it might take a drunken man to tumble down a flight of stairs. The unnamed central character keeps deciding to take control of things and then being swept along in the opposite direction, usually into a bar. There are many beers and not too much logic: 

…he has no desire to commit adultery, or so he tells himself, as he sits on the edge of her bed with his pants around his ankles. Is he taking them off or putting them on? He’s not sure…

By the end, “After a few more beers and orgasms”, he is lying in a hospital bed and his adult son arrives to say goodbye. “It’s probably for the best. For the best what? he asks.” The form itself, with its skips, hiccups and lacunae, represents the experience of an unexamined life. 

First published in The New Yorker, 14 March 2011. Collected in Going for a Beer, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. You can read it here or listen to Joshua Ferris read and discuss it on a New Yorker podcast here

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