‘Going for a Beer’ by Robert Coover

It’s over before you know it. That might be a criticism of the short story form. It might imply something else, though. Coover’s story pits form against content, rattling through a character’s life as though against his will, with nothing but Kewpie dolls and crutches to cling to. If the short story form is about compression (and maybe it is, sometimes), Coover’s is like a car crusher, squeezing its poor protagonist, who only wanted a beer, into a helpless cube.

Originally published in The New Yorker, March 2011, and available online here. Collected in Going for a Beer: Selected Shorter Fictions, Norton, 2018

‘The Babysitter’ by Robert Coover

In these days of digital radio perhaps you are nostalgic for the times when, caught between frequencies, you could simultaneously hear opera and a cricket commentary. If you hanker after simultaneous multiplicity you could do worse than read ‘The Babysitter’, which is probably the most anthologised story I have chosen. One evening a teenage girl looks after the children of Harry and Dolly Tucker, a couple who are heading out to a party. But there are multiple lines, alternatives and versions. What’s a happening? What’s an imagining? Which of the various narratives can co-exist? Exhausting, because no consideration of Coover’s story can be exhaustive.

From Pricksongs and Descants, 1969, and now available as a Penguin Modern Classic, 2011. The story is also available from Penguin as a digital single and in a Modern Classics mini)