The Public Burning

The Public Burning A Controversial Best Seller In , The Public Burning Has Since Emerged As One Of The Most Influential Novels Of Our Time The First Major Work Of Contemporary Fiction Ever To Use Living Historical Figures As Characters, The Novel Reimagines The Three Fateful Days InThat Culminated With The Execution Of Alleged Atomic Spies Julius And Ethel Rosenberg Vice President Richard Nixon The Voraciously Ambitious Bad Boy Of The Eisenhower Regime Is The Dominant Narrator In An Enormous Cast That Includes Betty Crocker, Joe McCarthy, The Marx Brothers, Walter Winchell, Uncle Sam, His Adversary The Phantom, And Time Magazine Incarnated As The National Poet Laureate All Of These And Thousands Converge In Times Square For The Carnivalesque Auto Da Fe At Which The Rosenbergs Are Put To Death And Not A Person Present Escapes Implication In Cold War America S Ruthless Public Burning

Born Robert Lowell Coover in Charles City, Iowa, Coover moved with his family early in his life to Herrin, Illinois, where his father was the managing editor for the Herrin Daily Journal Emulating his father, Coover edited and wrote for various school newspapers under the nom de plume Scoop He was also his high school class president, a school band member, and an enthusiastic supporter of the

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  • Paperback
  • 544 pages
  • The Public Burning
  • Robert Coover
  • English
  • 23 July 2019
  • 9780802135278

10 thoughts on “The Public Burning

  1. says:

    This Is a Job for Uncle Sam A very exciting way to write history, at least political history, which is simultaneously personal and public, psychological and strategic, irrationally rational and therefore so dense with meaning it defies conventional narrative As Richard Nixon says in The Public Burning, just as a nation has neither friends nor enemies, only interests, so there are no enduring loyalties in politics except where they are tied up in personal interests And personal interests are about as complicated as it gets They ensure that Politics is the only game played with real blood In American democratic politics Issues are everything, even when they re meaningless Trump has his Wall, Nixon had Reds Under Our Beds Both are symbols of tribal affiliation rather than threats to the Republic This is what democracy is built upon emotive symbols So, indeed, as Nixon knew so longingly, isn t that a hell of a thing that the fate of a great country can depend on camera angles He eventually got his angles right when he shifted his focus from Commies to Black people as the main threat to the Nation Trump has simply enlarged this anti constituency by including Latinos and Muslims He like Nixon is clearly ignorant but in one sense they have learned too much, have built up ways of looking at the world that block off natural human instincts The Public Burning is a permanent reminder, a literary monument, to just how strange the political culture of the United States is While its focus is the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for the crime of treason, its subject is the pervasive and apparently permanent disfunction of American democracy It is a chronicle only marginally of a likely injustice More importantly it is an analysis of how America really works, which is largely on the basis of personalities, and the competition among these personalities in all aspects of American life The Prologue makes it clear that there is a psychotic thread connecting George Washington to Donald Trump This thread is a sentiment of persistent, radical resentment.This resentment seems to be centred on the fact that there exists any government at all Government is an inimical force in America because it is so political And it is so political because it is so rightly mistrusted Nixon again Here is a political truth Deviousness wins votes Dishonesty is often the best policy The Right wants the abolition of government the Left its transformation into something else This is the American Way One s opponents, therefore, are not only to be beaten but to be crushed merely because they want to govern at all Schadenfreude is the underlying emotion No matter who loses, America wins Enlightenment or no, we still had our roots in the Dark Ages, muses the President manqu.There is a widespread calumny that America has the best politicians money can buy Trump is proof that this is patent nonsense There are many better politicians for sale in the USA than he And it has probably always been so Coover s take on Eisenhower, for example, shows how remarkably similar at least Republican Presidents have been in terms of brain power Uncle Sam Eisenhower, as his contemporary incarnation needed vacuity for an easy passage to the presidency and as for reading, than a page and he went blind Eisenhower s public Puritanism is the flip side of Trump s private Hedonism on the political coin It is not difficult to replace Uncle Sam with Ford, Reagan, W Bush, or Trump, not to mention Harding, Hoover, or Taft well, maybe not him for the passage to read as sensibly The idea that the election of Trump and his obvious appeal to the American people is an aberration, a hiccup that will be corrected, is clearly a hopeful urban myth with no factual basis whatsoever.Put another way Donald Trump is neither an exception nor an error He is, it is true, tasteless, openly mendacious, crude, vengeful, and capricious But these are incidental personality traits His fundamental character is a precise reflection of America instinctively violent when resisted suspicious of everything, especially its own people self deluding about its motivations blasphemously self assured about its role in the world and willing to sacrifice itself for an ideology it is in fact inadequately educated to understand The checks and balances of the Constitution may be far less important to controlling American power than the competitive free for all on which the system is premised So, for example, despite his rather civilised behaviour than Trump, Eisenhower s relationship with Congressional Republicans was so fragile, we couldn t afford to antagonize them in any way It s that old pioneer spirit that makes everyone so skittish, especially around friends.America has always been this way If, as the Evangelicals believe, Trump is an instrument of the divine despite his flaws, it can only be to hold a mirror up to the country, to reveal what they actually are This is the real value of his tweets which have revealed fully for the first time the banality of the society he leads as well as that of the leader Granted, the likelihood of such a revelatory recognition is low But that s where books like The Public Burning become important Among other things, it documents the historical continuity of popular insanity in American democracy and its manipulation by government and business Coover re casts America s Uncle Sam, that old Yankee Peddler, the eternal Spirit of One Nation Under God, as Slick Sam, the fast talking huckster who sells nationalistic snake oil to a willing populace through the likes of Hearst and Luce and Fox I think that s just about right Says Ike A lousy situation, but dese, as the man says, are de conditions dat prevail Postscript An academic sociological perspective confirming Coover s fiction as an interpretation of American politics can be found here

  2. says:

    A Tale of Two Atrocities The Public Burning is a fast and loose fictionalization of the three days leading up to the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on the evening of Friday, June 19, 1953.They were convicted of a charge of conspiracy to commit espionage, relating to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.Neither directly stole the information, nor passed it on to a Soviet agent If anything, they both had quite insignificant roles, compared to those who gave evidence for the People and received prison sentences The government believed that death sentences imposed on a married couple with young children would force them to confess and to identify other members of an allegedly extensive atomic spy ring.Apart from knowing what her husband might have done, Ethel s only role was to have typed some notes of a meeting that was supposed to have taken place in their kitchen It has subsequently been revealed that the evidence that she had done this was fabricated by two of the other defendants her brother and sister in law, David and Ruth Greenglass, who equally had young children, but didn t want to be executed.The Rosenbergs sons, Robert, 6, and Michael, 10, read about their parents fate.A Torrent of OmniscienceThe novel consists of two alternating and intertwining threads in the even chapters, Coover uses a third person omniscient narrator, while the odd chapters are ostensibly narrated by Vice President Richard Nixon.The omniscient narrative reads like press clippings, banner headlines and news tickers There are frequent lists of attendees at public and private events The novel describes itself as a rash of evil doings and idle banter, but it s like a torrent.It s sometimes difficult to tell whether Coover has written these chapters or appropriated them from contemporary sources If the former, they re highly authentic If the latter, they contribute to the post modern composite nature of the novel.Richard Nixon and His Amazing Performing ZealThe Nixon chapters are written in a confessional form, like memoirs or journal entries Given that Coover wrote the novel in the lead up to Nixon s impeachment and resignation, they are surprisingly sympathetic to the politician He is portrayed as unwanted, unpopular, the iron butt of jokes, an underdog, an outsider, a friendless loner, who was never accepted by the educational, legal and political establishment His grandmother has drummed into him the four selves self respect, self regulation, self restraint, self attainment Nevertheless, he has become a political animal whose greatest quality is his capacity for hard work zeal is my charisma Empathy for the DevilIn the lead up to the execution, Nixon reads and regurgitates all of the material about the Rosenbergs that he can get his hands on, in case he needs to give advice to Cabinet In the course of his reading I realised we had a lot in common They were all born into the Generation of the Great Depression. The Rosenbergs advocate peace, freedom and decency , later it s freedom, culture and human decency. They want to live decent, constructive lives Compared with Nixon, though, they hang out with friends who live pretty unconventional lives Nixon says of Julius He s a Marxist and has nothing but contempt for the bourgeois capitalist press, yet paradoxically he is also somehow an Americanist and a believer in Science and Freedom and History and Reason While Nixon is patriotic, he understands the Rosenbergs loyalty to a cause, even if it might have resulted in them betraying their own country The empathy that Nixon feels for the Rosenbergs gives added insight into not only the accused, but Nixon himself.Against Singular PositionsMother Luce of Time magazine says, Business is, esentially, our civilisation Nixon the Fighting Quaker doesn t see things so simply He can t quite abandon the modesty and lack of pretension of his religion and upbringing Somehow he maintains a foot in both camps We were like mirror images of each other, familiar opposites Left right, believer nonbeliever, city country, accused accuser, maker unmakerHe moved to the fringe as I moved to the centre It all served to confirm an old belief of mine that all men contain all views, right and left, theistic and atheistic, legalistic and anarchical, monadic and pluralistic and only an artificial call it political commitment to consistency makes them hold steadfast to singular positions It s My Circus, and I ll Play If I Want ToPolitics remains the stage upon which this pantomime is played.On the one hand, politics has become a battle between equal and opposite forces apart from the temporary advantage possession of the Bomb had given America The superpowers have become superheroes Uncle Sam wrestles the Phantom The Sons of Light engage the Sons of Darkness At stake is the Crime of the Century The perpetrators must be captured and punished.On the other hand, politics has become a little morality play for our generation , a form of vaudeville, an entertainment, a skit full of slapstick, a farce, a circus, a burlesque, a grotesque spectacle, a chamber of horrors, a scandal This thing is so foolish as to be fantastic For Uncle Sam, it might be a circus, but it s my circus. Still, the participants of whatever complexion are a bunch of clowns. They share a Rabelaisian spirit of perversity and are hungry for the sensationalism that Coover delivers them in spades.Subversive, CooversiveAs realistically as the novel commences, Coover signals his mischievous intent almost immediately.In the first paragraph, he mentions that the Supreme Court determined to burn them in New York City s Times Square on the night of their fourteenth wedding anniversary, Thursday, June 18, 1953, as it turned out, additional appeals in the Supreme Court delayed the execution until the following night hence the public burning of the novel s title.The execution took place by electric chair in Sing Sing Prison Colloquially, the Rosenbergs were burned, but not publicly.Coover proceeds to blur the distinction between fiction and journalism, documentary and satire Like his portrayal of the executions themselves, the novel is theatrical, political, whimsical The closest literary analogy is the New Journalism written by the likes of Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson However, Coover s novel is actually almost a mirror image of New Journalism It is fiction that masquerades as journalism, whereas New Journalism was journalism masquerading as fiction.The Levity of the CarnivalThe journalistic, memoirist feel of the novel helps to achieve a degree of levity that offsets and balances the comic overtones Unlike Rabelais and Swift, the serious commentary is actually based on very real events and responses to them If you removed the carnivalesque description, what remains would be a pretty good historical primer with respect to this period of American history.A Plot Well ExecutedThe novel is superbly paced as it works towards the executions and the aftermath in Times Square A clock counts down, while the news tickers rotate It s all happening, and we re positioned in the middle of it.The riff raff, the mob in the Square wants a public burning, and Uncle Sam is determined to deliver them what they want A la The Crucible Any man who is dominated by demonic spirits to the extent that he gives voice to apostasy is to be subject to the judgment upon sorcerers and wizards Coover s tale documents and distils all the sorcery and wizardry of a latter day origin myth with respect to American democracy I Am a Scamp Immediately before the executions, Nixon seeks a private audience with Ethel, in order to give her one last chance to confess, effectively by naming the names of others.He knows that there is a weakness in the People s case, and while it remains, History might judge Uncle Sam adversely.This is where satire approaches questionable taste There is a lengthy, well written scene of attempted seduction between the two protagonists Some describe it as pornography, others as misogynistic for an example, see Adrienne Rich s poem at the link below.Nixon or Coover or is it both envisages Ethel saying to Nixon I envy you your poweryour majesty You are a great man I have faith in you, Richard You will unite the nation and bring peace to mankind It s not clear how seriously we re supposed to take this passage, and who we are supposed to believe.Does it make light of the real Ethel s marriage, resolve and dignity Is it a logical extension of Nixon s perverse persona Does it encapsulate his empathy Or detract from it Does it all occur in Nixon s imagination Does Uncle Sam s political power inevitably have an erotic element Does Coover foreshadow a President who did not have sexual relations with that woman Are we entitled or obliged to differentiate Coover from his characters What was Coover s motive Is it relevant or legitimate to pursue this line of inquiry In this way, the novel asks and anticipates many of the questions raised by American Psycho. The Eroticism of Politics or The Politics of Eroticism Having read the novel twice, I m still prepared to err on the side of Coover If at the time that this novel was first published in 1977 there was any doubt that eroticism was at the heart of the American Psyche and its politics, it has since been expunged.Whatever its flaws, this is one of the great works of American literature Coover deserves a place beside other profound, profane and prescient novelists like Pynchon and DeLillo.Pour Michael et Robby Rosenberg PicassoADDED EXTRAS Judge Irving Kaufman s Reasons for Imposing the Death Penalty I consider your crime worse than murder I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions of innocent people may pay the price of your treason Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack Case OverviewRobert Meeropol born Robert Rosenberg 2011 Julius Rosenberg engaged in non atomic espionage during the 1940 s up until January, 1945, when he was fired from the Army Corp of Engineers The Greenglasses delivered atomic information of relatively little value to the Soviet Union without the Rosenbergs direct assistance Neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg was a member of an atomic spy ring that stole the secret of the Atomic Bomb The United States government knew all along that Ethel Rosenberg was not an espionage agent, and that Julius was not an atomic spy, but executed them both anyway http www.rfc.org caseoverviewNikita S Khrushchev s Memoirs Let my words serve as an expression of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives to a great cause of the Soviet state at a time when the U.S was using its advantage over our state to blackmail our state and undermine its proletarian cause If We Dieby Ethel RosenbergOssining N.Y., Jan 24, 1953You shall know, my sons, shall knowwhy we leave the song unsung,the book unread, the work undoneto rest beneath the sod.Mourn no , my sons, no why the lies and smears were framed,the tears we shed, the hurt we boreto all shall be proclaimed.Earth shall smile, my sons, shall smileand green above our resting place,the killing end, the world rejoicein brotherhood and peace.Work and build, my sons, and builda monument to love and joy,to human worth, to faith we keptfor you, my sons, for you.Adrienne Rich For Ethel Rosenberg The full poem extract After her deathshe becomes a natural prey for pornographersher death itself a sceneher body sizzling half strapped whipped like a sailShe becomes the extremest victimdescribed nonetheless as rigid of will It s quite likely that Robert Coover is one of the pornographers referred to in these lines, some of which are quoted from the novel.Adrienne Rich For Ethel Rosenberg A reading of the second half of her poem s ResolveThe trial was a fraud,The sentences vindictive,To make us confess.Auto da F If the killing ends Because we died, boys,Build a monumentTo peace, love and joy.Rosenberg Fund for ChildrenThe Rosenberg Fund for Children is a non profit, public foundation that makes grants to aid children in the U.S whose parents are targeted, progressive activists It also assists youth who themselves have been targeted as a result of their progressive activities Donations to the RFC are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.http www.rfc.org Vemork Hydroelectric Plant, Rjukan, NorwayHeavy Water A Fictional Speculation on the Nature of Treachery Dearest RomyI don t know whether you ll ever receive this letter, but I ll write it anyway, if only so Lotte can read it when she s old enough The Kommandant said not to waste too much time on it, as if he knew it would be destroyed when it left my hands.He grinned when he said that, though, and he s been kind to me in the past, so you never know.It broke my heart when you left Germany with your parents At 18, I thought you d be old enough to stay and ultimately marry me For your father, it was important that you remain alive than that you get married to an up and coming German physicist.I thought your family would inevitably end up somewhere neutral and faraway like the United States.Imagine my surprise when we ran into each other in a bar in Oslo We both cried, as if two parts of the one being had been lost and then reunited by chance I didn t want to let go of your hand.Of course, I was only in Norway, because Germany had invaded it Neutrality vanished overnight, and with it the safety of your family.If your father had been able to arrange passage earlier, I might never have seen you again However, it didn t prove so easy this time.I hadn t wanted to go to Norway, but my knowledge of heavy water was deemed vital to the project at Norsk Hydro If I performed well there, my old Professor felt I would eventually become a valued part of the Uranverein back in Germany It was only supposed to be a 12 month project Deutsche Physik was a difficult club to join, but once you were in, it was hard to get out.Of course, in Munich, it had helped that you were perceived as an olive Aryan, at worst a woman of French or perhaps even Hungarian origin Nobody suspected you of being a Jew, at least before you left Germany.Initially, your appearance wasn t even commented on in Norway Nobody thought twice about giving you a job in the communications office at the Lab Who was I to say It wasn t my decision My greatest concern was your safety, not its secrecy As far as I was concerned, you were putting your head in the lion s mouth, but it was your decision.You have to admit that I personally took secrecy seriously I never discussed a single thing about my work with you Not even in bed No pillow talk Not a word That s how conscientiously I regarded my own duties I had my eyes on the Uranverein, after all, even if you couldn t return to Germany with me I suppose I always knew we would have to part company eventually I just hadn t thought that there would be three of us by the time we did Lotte was such a delightful surprise, even if I only got to spend three months with her.It embarrasses me a little to think that I had no idea what you were up to or that you were about to leave, until it was a fait accompli.I was even na ve enough to report you as missing to your superior I suppose, in that way, I brought about my own demise.Nobody suspected me of helping you take so many of our research records Initially, it was highly likely that I would be spared and permitted to continue my work Only, when Himmler found out about us, he described me as a white Jew , and I realised that was the end for me Nobody would stand up to Himmler Not even in Berlin, let alone Norway I ve been told that your family has been traced to America It s assumed that what you took has been passed onto some project there Even though we re not at war with the United States, they didn t want them to get our research If they re trying to build a bomb, it will advance them by two or three years Who knows, they might become our enemy if they think they could beat us.What hurts is that, if I had known what you were up to, I would have to have stopped you I would have to have reported you, the mother of my daughter, to our superiors, even if it meant you would have been punished.I don t believe in this Third Reich nonsense any than you or your father However, they are the current Government of our country, and I must respect their laws, even if I would vote them out, given the chance Treason is something you commit against your country, not just the current Government, and I could never bring myself to betray my country, its people, no matter how much I disagree with whoever controls the State.So it is that I accept my fate There can be no compromise with a traitor, even if I am once removed from one They say that, if they didn t execute me, there would be no deterrent to people like you I suppose it makes sense in a Deutsche Physik kind of way.They plan to shoot me at dawn tomorrow I don t plan to scream or cry or avert my eyes I ll hold my head high I ve done nothing wrong I hope that I bring no shame to Lotte and that one day she will be proud of me God knows that, despite everything that has happened, I love her and her mother.Karl SchumacherRjukan, NorwaySeptember 2, 1941

  3. says:

    February 2013Book I Bought In 2007 And Hadn t Read Yet As Of January 2013 1 The Public Burning by Robert Coover Those who have cast their lot with me shall come to dominion Those who have cast it with the Phantom shall get their ass stacked Uncle Sam Mine eyes have seen the glory 1953, June 17th, Wednesday Eisenhower is Superchief, Richard Nixon his right hand man, Time magazine the Poet Laureate J Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, and Billy Graham, great Americans all, have worked tirelessly to root out Communism and godlessness here at home But across the world the Korean War rages on, Communism spreads unchecked, the Phantom works his dark magic, and Uncle Sam, that star spangled Superhero sprung fully formed from the forehead of Liberty to bring freedom to the world and a boot to its behind, has run himself ragged trying to keep up And in New York, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, traitors, atomic spies, agents of the Phantom, thieves of light, are scheduled to be executed burned by light in the electric chair before the eyes of the entire nation in Times Square on their fourteenth wedding anniversary, Thursday the 18th.The stage is set, the crowds have gathered, the switch just itches to be thrown, but hark With mere hours to go, with all appeals exhausted and the Supreme Court gone fishin , that dirty traitor William O Douglas slithers back to the holy chambersand grants a stay of execution The Rosenbergs are saved and the country doomed Friends, this is a job for Uncle Sam And Dick Nixon, of course Old Iron Butt has enough on his hands corrallin Congress, but duty and America calls Can Gloomy Gus save the day Will the Supreme Court relent Will the Rosenbergs at last be executed Can Uncle Sam root out the soldiers of the Phantom And will Richard Nixon ever get his pants back on I do mean that last bit Cuz while this may be a glorious book, awesome in the almighty sense, a powerful rip roaring yarn, it has a wee tendency to be mighty goddamn frustrating Coover has a way of drawing out a scene, which ordinarily ain t so bad just read that prologue and weep, ye sinners but when Uncle Sam gets to sermonizin , or Tricky Dick Nixon goes golfing or gets caught with his pants down twice , time itself starts looking at its watch And if Nixon s pants were to fall down while golfing, hell, the goddamn universe might have to call it quits And those last hundred pages before the Rosenbergs get frizzled seem almost endless, as the country gathers in Times Square, the Supreme Court goes wallowing in elephant shit, and Iron Butt does his damnedest save the day but oh, dear friends, all those sins can be forgiven, yessir, because this is one helluva book When Coover drags it out, hold on to every word cuz when he s on fire, hell, ol Julie and Ethel aren t the only one s who ll burn.Or maybe that s just me I was feelin demoralized and lookin for something to pick me up last month after failing, in quick succession, to read DFW and M Proust Here comes Infinite Jest and it s steeeee RIKE one Swing and a miss The pitcher winds up and throws out Swann s Way steeeee RIKE two Ol Jacob s not doin too well and he doesn t have any balls, could this be the end of the season for him already Should he try to get hit and walk Does he even know anything about baseball Too late the pitcher s just thrown The Public Burning and he hits it He knocks it out of the park Yahtzee Goal TOUCHDOOOWWWWNNN Or whatever You get what I m saying.So this book came at the right time, I d say and thank Sam for that But some books are like that Most books you can read whenever, but others come at a right time I needed a Gaiman my Junior year of high school, and Neil s Sandman series was the right one for me China Mi ville knocked my socks off a year later and freed me from the same ol bloated fantasy novels I d been mired in for years in 2006, as I was half assing my way through a creative writing course at UW Baraboo, John Irving showed me what real writing looked like in The World According to Garp and just last year I lost my socks again to Moby Dick, a great white whale still pure and uncorrupted by any English teacher s soiled touch And then there are the books at come at the wrong time, too early I was not ready for War and Peace, and probably the same could be said for David Foster Wallace and Proust or just too late I think I missed the window for Catcher in the Rye and Pride and Prejudice, and if I had access to a time machine I would go back to Junior year, snatch those Sandman graphic novels out of young me s grubby paws, and make him read Of Human Bondage instead Look, you stupid little shit, another artist type who loves a girl who loves a German Read it and grow the fuck up , but those are stories for other times, cuz I ve digressed too long, sorry And then there s this magnificent bastard Ok, so Coover didn t move me or change my life like Irving or Mi ville or what was I thinking Gaiman, but it was still a much needed pick me up after getting clobbered by IJ and ISOLT Could I have read it another time Sure, maybe but maybe not Because I bought The Public Burning almost seven years ago, in 2007, age twenty some of you just winced , because it sounded interestingbut if I had tried to read it then, in 2007, age twenty rub it in, why dontcha , I would ve been stomped on harder than I was last month by those other chunky books This was not something I would or could, probably have read back then Irving and Mi ville and some others aside, I wasn t much of a reader Hell, I only started keeping a reading log that year, and looking back with a shudder , I don t see much worth boasting about Irving and Mi ville show up, yeah, as well as one J G Ballard, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and Bull Brust s unappreciated Freedom Necessity, but aside from those I can t really say I read many good books in 2007but I bought some good ones I was just getting hooked on bookstores then, and I picked up some interesting stuff Some Homer, some Ovid, plenty of mythology and philosophy and history, Laurence Sterne and Heinrich B ll, Cervantes, Robert Tressell, and others, including this I bought a bunch of good booksbut I haven t actually read them yet There s a full list right here Coover s is the first one I can check off The others I need to get to, along with the 2006 list, over the next year or two It seems like a fun little project, dontcha think The only question is, WHAT S NEXT

  4. says:

    A full toothed pell mell assault on the American political class rendered in scimitar sharp prose, rammed into the intestines of the Establishment with merciless force Split between a rumbustious third person satirical voice, making full use of Coover s insane linguistic skill in the phonetic bile of Uncle Sam a monstrous American Devil pulling the puppet strings and a section narrated by Dick Nixon who has his intestines removed and served up on a plate of steaming poop four times per para , The Public Burning re imagines the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the form of a live TV rabble shambles A work of obsession and near madness ensues as Coover tightens his fists around America s throat the sort of kind act of public strangulation so needed in these mephitic times Four stars for the usual Cooverian excesses that make the novel extraordinarily overlong for no reason.

  5. says:

    Furious, scatological, enflamed, visionary, razor sharp, scabrous, detailed, lengthy, outraged, overindulgent, pioneering, vicious, vivacious, cynical, black hud, radical, cartoonish, incandescent, hauntingI can see why this book was banned but that s only for the reasons that testify to its power and vision This is a cultural link to South Park, The Simpsons, etc Over the top satire that is just too dead on to be neglected The problem is, its tragicomic vision of a charismatically rapacious America is right on the money We re talking about RICHARD NIXON here, the man and the myth and how it intersects with the Uncle Sam mythology and our patriotic gore Coover doesn t mince words occasionally he over uses them but he knows EXACTLY what he is putting the scalpel blade to and why, which is terrying for a satirist and mesmerizing for a reader.Bawdy, rancid, brilliant.I mean, c mon, Richard Nixon falls in love with Elanor Roosevelt Uncle Sam is a bigoted, cheery, flamboyant, cartoonish caricature of the american spirit who taunts, mentors, and baits the ruthless and somewhat naieve Nixon to pushing forward the Rosenberg s death in an auto da fe Freakish Yet, the portrait of Nixon we get here is actually pretty humanizing He comes across as a sort of lovable lug who is essentially fairly decent and actually rather bewildered by the goings on around him This is powerful stuff for people who like their political satires raw and biting.Here s an article that says what I m trying to say even better

  6. says:

    I read this as part of a Thomas Pynchon group on yahoo in the late 90s Apparently I was the only one in the group who braved this wicked ride I recall calling my grandmother and verifying historical details, particularly about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg This was such a wild endeavor, one devoured at a very open point in my life I am far from certain how I would receive this now, some twenty years later.

  7. says:

    This is my first Robert Coover book and I enjoyed it from cover to cover The story covers the three days leading up to the execution of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Coover alternates chapters between a fictional Richard Nixon and a fictional manifestation of Uncle Sam The Nixon chapters are told from Tricky Dick s perspective as he struggles with the daily challenges of his job as Ike s not very well respected Vice President, his deteriorating home life, and his sweaty wrestling bouts with his own black demons Throughout, I couldn t help but think about this passage from David Foster Wallace s Kenyon College commencement speech, This is Water, where he discusses the dangers and necessities of worship in adult life Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever power over others to numb you to your own fear.Oh how this character could have benefited from DFW s warning The Uncle Sam chapters are much free form, chaotic, jingoistic, and nightmarish Clich s, lies, scandals, and celebrities fill these chapters until you feel like you may have entered Dant s Inferno Betty Crocker, JEdgar Hoover, Roy Cohn, Senators, Congressmen, crooners, stars, and scoundrels each make their appearance as the clock ticks down to the execution hour.And what an execution it is Organized by Cecil B DeMille, side shows by Walt Disney, performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, endless propaganda from Uncle Sam and his minions, all staged in New York s Times Square with every drop of national glitz you can imagine draped all over the scene And thankfully, Coover is not afraid to include accurate descriptions of the Rosenberg s as they sizzle on stage for the blood lusty audience of millions.If you re old enough to remember Nixon and company, you re gonna love this book

  8. says:

    It is with some consternatin that I do believe the Holy Ghost Himself, one Mr Sam Slick, Uncle Sammy, plug hatted prometheus is the butt kickin , freedom taring ethos of these here YOU nited States, a tulpa of our ancestors devisin that we keep churrnin up with our idealisms and religionisms and tribality, and that in so en body ing that old SPIRIT of America as a homunculus, Mr Coover here, the confabulator in chief of this so called The Pubic Burning erm, pubLIC has recast the electric glow of our collective his story Reckon to re consile that manipYOUlatif basterd as your fore pappy, a deity clad in the red white and ba lue stars and bars and Ford motorcars the old pap an interminable windsack full of a freedom spewing fervor that ain t listening when you tell em not to be mixin the bourbon with the wine, and still have to recumpensate the en TIRE globe for all that liberatin vomit steaming up in a froth accidental or on purrpuss Whether it be to quenchin and chokin the flames of commyounauseum er those newfangled sueeside bommers in today s parlants, yer darn tootin it s the same ol enemy o Ol Glory herself, the god fersakin Phantom It is, without doubt or lack of dooty, that Sam Slick, the ringmastermind, the king corporal, must rise from the vomit to kick The Phantom in his butt and call him macaroonie, and maybe do a few other things to it too If yer catch the innuitdo Our Cuntry sure has wrought forth fire and fury, brimstone and brine, bare assed and kicked ass with a take all prisners approach that entrenches the American Dreamcicle as the end all be all rejoinder against the kitty caterwallin of the uprisin s uprisin round this here bloo orb orbiting the heel ee ohs, but really orbiting round the stars claddin Uncle Sam s taint.Coover s reenactin of the tale of the Rosenbergs, those old, dirty Atom Spies, the filthy peddlars of America s secretions to The Phantom s fattest friend, encandesces the pallor and paltry pittance of hoo manity that drips from the YOU ESS guv mint like thick tar from a tree branch no room in the belly for any of the so called reason and justice and empathy when there s as bigger point to be singed into the pubic erm, pubLIC mind, rilin em up against the enemies of our freedum and our idealism This re imaginin by 5 star palavator general Coover is a rough and tumble, fun as hail romp thru the imagined yet unproven to exist conshints of Tricky Ding Dong Ditch Dick Nixun, casting him as a symapath, a chess piece on the checkerboard of uh vuncular Sam, a piece of meat doin the biddin s demanded by the fight agenst The Phantom A fight that continyous engorgin with toomescents, penetratin new tear itories and lavatories but dressed up in a pretty new dress to keep the pubic erm, the pubLIC all fired up in the name of the stars and bars, flappin in the free est wind that blows liberty n justice thru the lands, like the flatulence from Sammy Slick s ass.Read it.

  9. says:

    This is an extraordinary novel, and contains some of the most sustained, inventive, furious satire I have ever read So why only 4 stars Well, while there are sections that would fully deserve the full fathom five, it was just too much rage to be sustained over a 500 page, tiny type, novel Writing in fury is hard, it has a tendency to take over the prose, and it can become a little baggy and unfocused as a result Some judicious editing might have made this work better for me, though I cannot think of a single section I would want to remove.

  10. says:

    Robert Coover recently published The Brunist Day of Wrath, revisiting earlier territory in a highly anticipated by hundreds at least mammoth new novel One of the thoughts I had reading The Public Burning was that Coover could have easily returned to The Public Burning by looking at a recent era in American history Imagine a novel where a Vice President named Dick, a cynical operator and foil to a relative political amateur from Texas, is seduced by the idea of becoming the living incarnation of Uncle Sam A man who views a recent crisis as losing a war with the evil that puts the country s very way of life in jeopardy As the machinations of Uncle Sam create a scenario for the destruction of another country in order to turn the tide against The Phantom which has turned from communism to radical Islamists , Dick discovers that the evidence supporting the martyrdom of an entire country is dubious at best In a late night cram session going over the evidence, Dick realizes that the yellow cake rumor is horseshit, the satellite images of mobile facilities for the production of weapons of mass destruction are just a collection of trucks in the desert, and the UN monitoring teams led by Hans Blix were right on the money when they said Iraq no longer had major stockpiles of WMDs In this moment the seeds are sown for an examination of Dick Cheney wrestling with his demons, whereby he eventually falls in love with the people of Iraq and makes an eleventh hour attempt to save them from the pain and destruction that will follow the shock and awe of Operation Iraqi Freedom Imagine a novel where Dick is humanized by the conflict between his nationalism and the truth that Uncle Sam is perpetrating the murder of innocents to further his fight against the Phantom A novel in which we might even feel sympathetic to a politician that most Americans view as a ruthless power seeker who would not think twice before abusing that power to further his own agenda Naw Coover is a great writer, but he s not a miracle worker Coover DOES manage to work wonders with the character of Dick Nixon The sections with Nixon were the highlight for me, a man who has become a caricature in American history Coover skillfully displays the inner workings of Nixon the man s need for privacy and inability to connect with others on a personal level, his feelings of not measuring up, of being an outcast because of his upbringing in rural California and the effects of losing two brothers in childhood and his mother s estrangement due to illness Along the way, Coover examines the Nixon biography through the eyes of his main character We see a man who is known as a grind Ol Iron Butt , a man whose romantic intentions are seldom met with enthusiasm, the greatest bench warmer any football team has had this side of Rudy, a master debater, the actor of community theater, and the man who cut his political teeth as an Early Warning Sentinel in the fight against the Red Scare by taking down Alger Hiss.The tougher sections of the book highlight the American Superhero Uncle Sam in his fight against the Sons of Darkness and the Phantom The embodiment of America is shown to be a shifty profiteer and speaks in a form of English referred to in Blazing Saddles as Authentic Frontier Gibberish Included in many of the scenes leading up to the Public Burning are fictional characters such as Betty Crocker and living ones such as Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy and Gary Cooper My favorite cameo from popular culture is by William Faulkner, who is asked to give some words on page 420 Another scene I particularly enjoyed is the slapstick involving the Supreme Court Justices who vacated the stay of execution and can t seem to find their way out of a giant smear of dung left behind by the Republican Elephant These scenes feature Coover at his most fantastic and satirical In fact, I found his satire hitting home with me and succeeding much better than Barth s Giles Goat Boy The Intermezzo scenes are in the format of a speech, a play or dramatic dialogue and an opera These sections show Coover s playfulness as do other typographical shenanigans in the text and scenes where the characters show an awareness of being actors in a play My second hand first edition included a bit of ephemera from 1977, a receipt for payment of dental services from a dentist in Flint MI to an assumed previous owner named Gary For those who don t like postmodern writing, The Public Burning might feel like a trip to the dentist For those who do it might feel like the best carnival ride you ve been on in years Either way, it is worth dipping your toe in and deciding which camp you belong to.

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