Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Robert Coover’s “The Colonel’s Daughter” was originally published in the September 2, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

I’ve enjoyed, to a degree, Coover’s short fiction that’s appeared in The New Yorker, and I really need to read one of his novels. It’s impressive that he’s still going strong at 81. I have read this one already, but it was a puzzle I haven’t yet had a chance to revisit. Consequently, my thoughts have been a bit jumbled and not quite ready to post. Thankfully, Betsy has!

Betsy

Best start at the starting place with Robert Coover’s “The Colonel’s Daughter.” Although the story might appear to be about the Colonel, or about the cabal he hopes will kill the President, I think the story concerns itself most deeply with the Colonel’s daughter, even though the reader is immediately distracted from her importance by the story’s opening word: “The conspirators . . .”

The story takes place within the Colonel’s mansion, where he has gathered a group of nine men together in his den for the purpose of setting a coup in motion. Comprised of representatives of various power groups, the cabal includes a revolutionary lawyer, a deputy minister, the chief of police, a corrupt retail mogul, a real estate tycoon, a pilot, an editor, and a doctor. In his interview with Deborah Treisman, Coover reveals that the effect he is aiming for is cinematic. His method is to focus on the thoughts of several of the men, revealing that, for instance, the colonel believes that at least one of the men present will betray him, that in fact there might be a counter cabal within the cabal. The colonel hopes to be president, but the fact is almost every single man has a reason to hate him. Cinematically speaking, however, we would never hear any of these men thinking, nor would we hear someone thinking about them.

The story appears to be taking place in a country lacking a stable system for the orderly transfer of power, a place where the army might suddenly seize the reins. Even though there is a description of native dress that appears to be eastern European, one is put more in mind of the present difficulties in Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria.

Coover plays with the instability of metaphor by having each man “interpret” the meaning of the nationalist or tribal embroidery on the daughter’s apron and vest in a different manner. One has to doubt that the message conveyed by the embroidery is at all clear, given that each man’s answer is more fanciful than the last. One would doubt the power of metaphor, except that this metaphor is not at all clearly expressed.

At the same time, there can be no doubt about what the colonel is doing by having his daughter present at the meeting. While he appears to have her there as a hostess, and as light conversational diversion, he is in fact using her to determine the loyalty of each of the men present. He is using her to the point of assault, and his display of her verges on offering her as fodder for rape. By the time the evening is over, she has shed her apron, her vest and her skirt. Nothing in the tone of the story teller reveals any shock at the bizarre goings on, and no one speaks on the girl’s behalf, not even the revolutionary lawyer who was once her teacher or maybe even her lover. Not even the family doctor interrupts on her behalf. The deputy minister is frightened by the girl’s beauty, and thinks of her as “wanton.” In the deputy minister’s mind, she is to blame, and should be punished. She is in so much danger that even the colonel realizes he must sequester her, but he reveals no sadness about the circumstances that now necessarily mean she must be “protected”  for the rest of her life in a convent.

What country Coover intends is not clear, but it is a country with, for one thing, no respect for women. I am reminded of the places where women are attacked with acid, or raped because they are western or are behaving in a western way, or where a girl can be shot because she goes to school.

The girl clearly stands in for the country itself — the country whom each of the men in the cabal is willing to rape, it appears.

The issue of who it is that has murdered the colonel and the lawyer is unimportant, actually. The real question is this: how did this girl, whether she was ever the colonel’s real daughter or not, end up being thrown away?

Countries where women are throw-aways, countries where women need not be educated — these are the countries in the gravest danger of instability. If half of the population lives under this kind of “house arrest,” the country is perched on a precarious cliff: these women, who represent half of the country, are both half alive and half enfranchised. In these countries the women are told what to wear, and their clothing is another form of house arrest. In this story, we never hear the colonel’s daughter say a word, even though we know that perhaps she has a lover in the room. Muzzlement — that’s my word for enforced mutism — ends up in explosion.

The girl stands in for the country — thrown away, used, exploited, silenced, imprisoned — and all in the name of pretty lies told by the ones in charge.

So, who killed the Colonel? My vote is on the doctor, the man in the “bottle glass spectacles,” the one who attends the colonel’s wife, the woman subject to “periodic fits of depression.” I think Coover chose the word “fits” purposely. Keep half the country under house arrest, and the resultant fits ought to be quite significant. Osama bin Laden’s second in command was a doctor from Egypt. I am reminded of Zawahiri by this story, especially as he was arrested and thrown in jail in Egypt at the time of Anwar Sadat’s assassination.

Still, the Colonel’s daughter is the one that matters.

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By |2014-05-13T23:56:35+00:00August 26th, 2013|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Robert Coover|Tags: |27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Jon August 26, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I don’t fully know what to make of this story.  It reminds me of lesser episodes of the TV show “The Wire”–a rich, complex world is evoked but but character and drama are given short shrift. 

    The device of the men passing around the daughter’s garments didn’t work for me.  Just felt too mannered and kept me away from whatever author was trying to say about sexuality, ambition, and mortality.

    Still, there was something here that was compelling.  The author seems masterful at drawing the reader in (e.g., first paragraph) and creating a world that you want to linger in (much like “The Wire” again).

  2. Trevor August 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Jon, I read this one early yesterday but still am not sure what to think. I also enjoyed it, but it may be a day or two before I come up with anything to write above.

    I liked the mystery about who betrayed the Colonel in the end, and I want to reread it to see what else there is.

  3. tlieftep August 29, 2013 at 1:57 am

    The Police Chief, former and future Director of Natl Sec!! And like hell it doesn’t matter! Only if you insist every thing you read need be an opportunity to project your point of view on the world. Then the humor, the surreal sexual languor of the piece can be ignored as well. And it can be taken as an indictment of those benighted places where women are downtrodden.

    This a wonderful, sly, nabokovian bit of metafiction that will submit to a “serious” gloss but at cost of ignoring the superb voice and craft at play. Beware of readers who shun close readings to attitudinize. They’re aggrandizing themselves, and their simplifications, rather than doing the hard work of remaining open and aware and exploring the questions and the arena in which the artist is engaged.

  4. Jon August 29, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I appreciated this story much more on a second reading, and in fact came to really love it. I think it’s a rather fascinating existential meditation on how we all cope with living with uncertainty in a corrupt world, especially given our lusts and desires, which can personally seems so pure. The author lightens these themes nicely with some subtle humor as well (e.g., the President indicates the execution of the Professor by proclaiming “let us pause to consider the doorway into history, so eloquently evoked in a renowned monograph by one of our leading late lamented scholars”)

    (I do think Betsy’s final interpretation does the story a disservice and what I take as her mis-reading encouraged me to reread it. First off, I think it’s important to note that the whole country (and by metaphorical extension, every person in the world) is imprisoned: “A nation under permanent house arrest.” It’s not fair to the author to reduce his interesting meditations on history/fate, desire (libido), etc. to a criticism of societies that oppress women. Simply look at the conclusion of the story for an indication of the (much wider) scope of the author’s intent.)

    On second reading, it became clear that the first part of the story is some sort of half-remembered fever/sex-dream of the about-to-be-executed Deputy Minster. The point at which he indicates that the daughter’s skirt has come off is the point when the story enters unreality and is completely dream-like (and even further off the rails, “the daughter’s silken underwear” get sniffed) –the Deputy descends into complete paranoi (driven mad by his desire?) and then returns to reality in the room where the President gives the order for his execution.

    The Deputy Minister is the character desiring absolutely purity. He “is uncomfortable with the daughter’s comportment. He feels there is wantonness in it. She is flaunting her patriotism, but also her body, openly flirting with this roomful of conspiring men” Later…”The Deputy Minister, angry at the alliances one must make in this world in order to purify it.” Here we’re given with a man who can not cope with his own desires and the uncertainties and imperfections they engender.

    I think the other key character is the professor, who “does not take up the apron when it passes by, but stands and walks to the window, where he looks out upon the vast walled garden of the Colonel’s estate….The dogged, even if futile, search through the world’s detritus for meaning.” He also say “in spite of the military caste she comes from, the Colonel’s daughter was his favorite student.” Here I think he appreciates the daughter for her purity and beauty, in spite of the messiness of her family, reality of the country’s power struggles, etc. And… he gets executed.

    There are number of other great passages and meditations which add the stew of meaning here:
    ” nothing is permanent except change itself, drawing a wry smile from several. To the extent that the Colonel believes that, this insurgency becomes just another self-defeating attempt to attain the unattainable”
    ” The apron, until a moment ago, was part of her, is still part of her as it is handed rudely from one man to another. A violation of a sort.”.. “the passing of the apron, … in the plump, ringed fingers of the real-estate developer, is primarily a distraction from the terrible seriousness of their enterprise.”

    And then the final meditations on desire and meaning:
    -“To desire something is to lose it.” “..ludicrous plot in which we are all trapped.”
    -“..we are characters who do not exist, in a story composed by no one from nothing”

  5. Trevor August 29, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Jon, thanks so much for your take on the story. While I do see what Betsy is talking about, I was having a devil of a time articulating why I saw something different, and I think you’ve expressed some of that wonderfully.

    Incidentally, one of my problems this week, besides it being a rather difficult story, is that I have been hammer with work stuff and haven’t had the energy to reread or rethink the story — so thanks to you and Betsy for contributing!

    tlieftep, I’m okay with any one disagreeing with anything on this blog, but besides calling out a poster please provide a counter argument. I can’t understand telling someone they’re wrong without explaining why you’re right.

  6. Jon August 29, 2013 at 11:51 am

    @tlieftep I hadn’t seen your comment before posting, and like your way of putting what I was trying to get at. Especially:

    “…rather than doing the hard work of remaining open and aware and exploring the questions and the arena in which the artist is engaged.”

    I agree that’s the way one should read a story (and especially a reviewer).

    @Betsy I’d respectfully ask you to reread the story with an open mind–I think you’re way off base (and a bit out of line in telling us readers what matters).

    Just to take the concrete phrase “under house arrest”–you bring it up 3 times in your review and interpret it as referring to just women. Look back at how the phrase appears in context in the story–it clearly refers to the “rest of the populace” not connected to the military.

    More generally, I’m not discounting the importance of gender issues in the developing world, but to graft that issue onto this story requires willfully ignoring 90% of what the author has written.

  7. Betsy August 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Jon,

    I found your ideas fascinating. In particular, the place in the story where the girl’s skirt is removed was so puzzling to me. I certainly do want to re-read the story and notice whether it was right there I may have lost an open mind – given that it was her father who removed her skirt, or allowed it to be removed and put the girl in such danger and perhaps that is a subject that interests me more than the story warrants.

    I got so wrought up about that I never considered that this was not a real event, but merely a dream.

    Your idea that the story reflects a dreamlike state of consciousness, perhaps in the growing paranoia of the deputy minister is really interesting. It didn’t even occur to me to think of the story as someone’s dream, given how taken I was with the “rape of the country” image.

    I am also interested that you frame your disagreement in such a way that now I want to reread the story with your ideas in mind!

    On an even more serious note – I couldn’t agree more that personal opinion should be worded in a persuasive (respectful) manner. I owe you thanks for pointing out, without stridency, that I may have had a strident tone. Thanks for your own careful tone. So I’ll think about that as well.

    In the meantime, I want answer your concern that I ignored 90% of the story. You are absolutely right, I ignored most of what the men were thinking to concentrate on the 10 % that concerned the girl. But what interested me about the story was that the girl was not real to the men. That’s what interested me about the story – that she seemed invisible to them, much as the rest of her countrymen seemed invisible to them as well. The story felt like it was a bit of a trick – that Coover is proposing we be very interested in the men, when what might, and I say might, have been going on is he wanted us to notice what place this woman occupied, and what she represents. The holiday will distract me – but I will reply on Monday or so.

    I don’t mean that Coover is like one of these men. I mean that Coover has created a woman who is in great danger from these men. I think she matters to him a great deal.

    In the meantime, I am very curious as to who you think killed the colonel (or whether he was killed at all), and what clues lead us there. My vote was for the doctor, but I have to say I don’t have a lot of proof, other than process of elimination.

  8. Arnold August 29, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Coover’s superb story involves much more than the whodunnit question of which guest betrayed the Colonel. Still, the question of the betrayer’s identity is intriguing. I think the chief cluster of hints as to his identity is the betrayer’s interior monologue in the paragraph that begins “He whom the Colonel is hoping to ferret out knows that the Colonel will try to set a trap.” The betrayer is observing the former Police Chief whom the President has asked him “to try to recruit”, so the betrayer is not the former Police Chief. Similarly, it is not the “uncouth department-store magnate, the flushed young pilot, the naval Captain”, the ex-professor nor the Deputy Minister, all of whom are also observed by the betrayer in that same paragraph. The betrayer has told the former Police Chief of “his willingness to search for financial backers”, which suggests the betrayer is a businessman. There are only two businessmen in the room; one is the department store magnate, who is eliminated above. My vote for the betrayer is the other businessman, “the corpulent real estate tycoon”, who has earlier “cast several longing glances” at the unopened bottle of expensive foreign brandy.

  9. Jon August 30, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Hi Betsy:

    Just wanted to thank you for your generous and open response, and give some quick thoughts before the weekend (when I also plan to revisit this complex story.)

    In how we respond to fiction, I take your point and I guess I see a line between personal reaction and trying to objectively observe author intent and filter out our own sensitivities. To give a flip example, it’s the difference between saying “Every time I see the movie “The Godfather,” I can only think of the Tollbooth scene because my dear Uncle Ralph was a toll booth worker and died in a tollboth.” That’s perfectly reasonable, but different than saying “‘The Godfather’ is really all about the plight of tollbooth operators and all that stuff about capitalism and American culture is just there to frame the all-important and climactic toll-booth scene.”

    But reading your comments makes me realize aspects of the story I missed–there is some political dimension, which I don’t fully understand. It seems tied to the meta-fiction dimension as well. After all, it might be The President who is the story teller (he talks openly about “ludicrous plots in which we are all trapped.”) And I took the betrayer as the one character who didn’t even look at the daughter (object of desire) and channeled all his sexuality into worldly ambition.

    Also, I thought there were just 2 female characters, but notice now The President’s wife also appears. Veiled and with her own personal doctor as well. Thus both wives of the power players have personal doctors (?)

    Last point–I actually do think there’s some sexism on the part of the author. In the context of writing a story intended to be universal, he discounts / absents female desire. I take this as reflecting attitudes of his generation.

    Last, last point :)–I take the country to be South American, and thus another piece of evidence against the idea that the intent is criticism of muslim patriarchal societies. (Where else is does “The Church” play a major political role? And the women aren’t veiled and are treated with more respect than in traditional Islam–the daughter is ASKED to wear her outfit, not instructed. And she has agency in being seen as a potential threat to the plot. And South America would have department store magnates–in middle eastern countries there aren’t many and you’d expect them to be part of the royal family.)

  10. Betsy August 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Jon and Arnold – I am following your thoughtful remarks with great interest and looking forward to continuing the conversation after the long weekend. Maybe others will join in. There’s a lot to talk about.

  11. Roger August 31, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    This seems like one of those stories in which the philosophical point to be made comes first, and the characters serve as puppets used to act out the author’s philosophy in a mechanical manner. I find such stories a bore, even when the writer is as talented as Coover. Let’s see more stories about real, believable characters, rather than archetypes, interacting with one another dramatically, with the symbols and meaning arising organically.

    I’m surprised anyone would care about sleuthing out who the betrayer is. I submit that there isn’t a single character in this piece worth caring about, and hence no reason to care about whose betrayal has led to executions.

    As for the daughter and the tedious passing around of her clothing, to be sure she is an objectified victim of oppression, as we would necessarily expect in a tyrannical society. She’s mechanically playing her ordained role. Naturally, the ruling elite in a society like this will oppress women, even if they do so only in their spare time to make sure they are acting in accordance with the paint-by-numbers instructions embedded in their DNA.

  12. Julie September 3, 2013 at 3:20 am

    If ever there was a piece that deserved multiple readings, in both senses of the word, it’s this one.

    I quite appreciated Betsy’s original take. When I first read the story I thought it was well-written, with a poignant ending, but did it really have to be so violently misogynistic? Does the only female character need to be a cipher treated as only sex object and servant, in a piece full of men, their thoughts, ambition, and desires laid out in full? Does there have to be an intimation of gang rape? (Betsy alludes to this, but I want to spell it out more fully. Near the end, the interior minister is imagining that the daughter is being gang-raped. I don’t think that’s what is actually going on, but he sees that she is gone and so are the Captain, the pilot and the professor and “does he hear a whimper? A slap”? Then “as the professor and pilot return, others leave”. He himself “is determined not to be drawn into whatever obscenity is happening behind him” but as he leaves – driven by “urgings more shameful than fear” – “are they all grinning at him? Will they watch?”)

    Even if I’m off-base on that point (I concede that’s possible, since nobody else mentioned that part specifically – surprising to me) it’s still a piece that cries out for at least one Colonel’s-daughter-centered (i.e., feminist) interpretation, among others, no matter what else is going on in the story, and that’s what Betsy offered. I don’t know that I would have gone as far as Betsy and I think, as she admits, she was stuck on a more literal interpretation than was warranted, but I don’t think she was off base.
    Do I think Coover is violently misogynistic? Hell, no. Or, actually, it’s possible that he is the usual amount, especially for his generation, or “reflecting attitudes of his generation” as Jon pointed out. But I prefer to think that he is making us see it, that he is reflecting us back to us – this society, here, never mind the Middle East. This is water, and all that. I think he wants us to focus, at least a little bit, on the daughter’s plight, or even just on how the thinking about the daughter by each of the men in turn reflects on their characters. The piece is called, after all, “The Colonel’s Daughter”. (Oh yeah, Betsy again: “felt like a bit of a trick – that Coover is proposing we be very interested in the men, when…he wanted us to notice what place this woman occupied, and what she represents.” Smart lady.)
    The interior minister’s imaginings of the daughter’s “wantoness” reflect more on him than on her, who outside of his imaginings is described as nothing but rather demure. Think of the outwardly pious man we’ve all heard or read about in our very own society who is anything but “family values” in his own private life.
    Re: trying to figure out who betrayed colonel, I was writing people down and crossing them off while reading the story and had it down to the doctor, the editor, or the developer, but I don’t think Coover makes it clear. Then, it hit me. The piece is called, after all, “The Colonel’s Daughter.” (I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but it’s possible.)
    Upon re-reading I noticed that as they passed the woman’s vest from hand to hand “fresh interpretations of it are offered as it moves throughout the room”, and later all three garments are passed “eliciting a fresh round of vulgar, far-fetched interpretations” – quite like we’re doing here with this story, no? Well done, Mr. Coover.
    Oh, just one more thing: when I come here to Mookse & Gripes I’m assuming that I’m reading an interpretation of the story, whether Trevor’s or Betsy’s. When Betsy says above, for example, “The issue of who it is that has murdered the colonel and the lawyer is unimportant,” I just assume she means unimportant TO HER. I don’t think she’s obligated, nor is it necessary, to add that last part. She’s not dictating from on high. They are very clear on here that they welcome other viewpoints in the comments.

  13. Betsy September 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Hi Julie,

    What an interesting reading regarding the whimper and the slap, and what an interesting, careful take overall. And, of course, I welcome the idea that Mookse and Gripes is – by its title alone – committed to multiple readings. I do appreciate the support on a feminist take as one way to look at this story.

    I am still awash in the holiday. Everyone has left, but then there’s all the tidal debris! I look forward to my re-read – probably Thursday. Nice to hear from you Julie! :)

  14. Nick September 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Like Arnold, by process of elimination I thought the traitor to be the corrupt real estate tycoon—cynical, greedy, believing in nothing, an underlying theme of the story as we near its end. But wait! Could the Colonel, having seen just how despicably these hand-picked men have behaved toward his daughter, betrayed his own conspiracy to spare his daughter from them? Consider this final, revealing living thought of the colonel the narrator shares with us: “Potentially—so perhaps in actuality—everyone is a traitor! And all (as the professor and the pilot return, others leave the fireside, drift into the rustling shadows at his back) will see him as one, too! He is doomed! How can he extricate himself without being killed? He must find a safe house! He will call the President as soon as he leaves here. He is determined not to be drawn into whatever obscenity is happening behind him, but finally fear and other urgings, more shameful even than fear, drive him to stand and excuse himself. Are they all grinning at him? Will they watch? But there is no one back there. Only the luxurious shadows of the Colonel’s den. The daughter has apparently left. Behind him, he hears laughter. Trembling with rage, he leaves the room in search of the toilet.”
    Nick

  15. Nick September 4, 2013 at 3:39 am

    To plumb the depths of this noir still further, has the colonel decided to betray his own conspiracy to protect his daughter from himself—and his own impure thoughts?

  16. Arnold September 5, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Nick, fair points. Every conspirator present, including the colonel, is by his thoughts and character, a potential betrayer. But at the colonel’s funeral it is the real-estate developer who is sipping the “expensive bottle of imported brandy”–presumably the same brandy at which, in the story’s beginning, he “cast several longing glances”. His treatment as an honored guest indicates he he is in the President’s good graces now, as a reward for betraying the colonel. The only other “conspirators” mentioned as present at the funeral and treated with respect are the personal doctor of the President’s wife–he has the same status as before–and the police chief, who will again become the Director of National Security. Perhaps they also joined in the betrayal.

  17. Betsy September 5, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Having (finally) re-read “The Colonel’s Daughter”, I remain convinced that the daughter is not only the elusive subject of the story, but also a metaphor for the country held hostage by this gang of thieves. My main evidence that she (or the country for which she stands), is Coover’s true subject, is that she is the subject of his title.

    Whether Coover actually reveals the colonel’s betrayer is not clear. All of the cabal, and even the daughter, could have had a hand in some sort of betrayal, either in concert or in private. Perhaps that’s Coover’s point. Certain national conditions make of the politicians a den of thieves.

    While there is no point by point correspondence, the story puts me in mind of the Bhutto family of Pakistan. Both father and daughter were prime ministers, and both died violently, the father executed after a coup in 1979, and the daughter assassinated in 2007. Benazir Bhutto was a beautiful woman, a campaigner for both women and her country, and she was a careful student, being Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard. I merely say I was reminded of her by the story, her death having struck me as very sad at the time, and her death also seeming emblematic of the possible suffering of the country at large.

    It also interests me that Coover’s fable makes no mention of us, yet the story feels like a warning.

    Roger, I take your point (especially after this second reading) that when a story uses its characters as “puppets” for ideas, it risks being dull.

    Finally – I want to say – what an interesting discussion! Thanks to everyone for giving it a go, and welcome to any more that evolves.

  18. lucie (@luciee) September 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

    i am so glad i found your blog! (it showed up fourth when i queried “thomas mcguane the casserole”)

    when my friend and i had finished “the colonel’s daughter,” we thought the author meant for the plot he had been building to collapse, and the focus of the short story to be in the nihilistic last few sentences. we were so fixated on the delivery of pseudo philosophical conclusion (“we are characters who do not exist, in a story composed by no one from nothing…”) i was astonished to find your readers and you debating deep into the original plot- who ended up betraying the colonel?

  19. Nick September 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Hi, Arnold and Betsy,
    Yes, it sure does appear the President has more than one traitor in his corner. Once the colonel realizes this at story’s end, he feels he has no option but to come clean and hope the President will spare him, as well as his daughter. However, the one betrayer whose thoughts the narrator allows us to observe sees the colonel as the “nicer” of the two leaders, “Therefore,” this betrayer thinks, “he will no doubt choose the President.” In the end, the fact the colonel is not spared seems to prove the wisdom of this betrayer’s reasoning. It also suggests this betrayer is, as Arnold suggests, the new security chief and former police chief, who remains alive to handle the President’s executions.
    As Betsy and Lucie say, quite a story, quite an interesting discussion, subject to our own personalized interpretations— the essence, I guess, of Coover’s post-modernist approach to story-telling.

  20. Bluetopazf (@Bluetopazf) September 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    The developer was the betrayer.

  21. Betsy September 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I just want to note that today, September 11th, 2013, is the 40th anniversary of the generals’ coup in Chile. Following the death of elected President Salvador Allende, the military ruled Chile until 1990.

  22. Ken September 14, 2013 at 4:34 am

    I enter this really fascinating discussion a bit late. I will make a few points. 1. I agree it was the developer. 2. I think Betsy’s take is interesting but seems a bit reductive. I don’t think it’s wrong but it seems too focused on one level of a more complex story. 3. I thought this story was more about the impossibility of understanding, the impossibility of true knowledge. Not only is what happens somewhat unclear–as is the line between real and illusion and between separate characters’ consciousnesses–but even interpreting the patterns on the Colonel’s daughter’s clothes is impossible. The whole story is nebulous–occuring no specific place, floating from consciousness to consciousness, a story of slippages, indeterminacy.

    I think he’s not so much misogynist but a bit sexist. There’s definitely a dirty old man quality in much of his fiction over the years. This is the author of the erotica classic “Spanking the Maid.”

  23. Madwomanintheattic September 16, 2013 at 8:16 am

    It has been a while that a story has engendered this much discussion, very little of it reductive (I liked, I didn’t like), and I think that’s an enormous vote in favor of its being compelling and interesting. I am fascinating with the ratiocination about the killer, but the story leaves me the strongest pictorial image of the daughter, systematically stripped and raped. Whether she is a metaphor for the country or not, she is a woman, subservient, silent and finally ‘disappeared’ for her own good. If Coover had a cinematic goal (I’m think of Cate Winslett in “Blue Jasmine, playing against a lot of Big Male Names) the actor playing the daughter is going to get the Oscar.

  24. Trevor September 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I agree that the comments here have been great. So great, in fact, I could never get my own thoughts about the story to take shape :-) . Made me excited for the next story that generates a lot of interest. I’m hoping it will be another William Trevor story. I still think his latest is the best thing they published this year, and it was at the first of January.

  25. J November 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I enter this discussion very late in the game. I am way behind in reading the New Yorker magazines that are stacked up on my coffee table. I read “Colonel’s Daughter” yesterday. I know I will need to re-read it again at least once more. However, to echo Ken’s comment, I believe there is a bit of a ‘naughty boy’ in Coover’s approach to incorporating women in his writing. I am thinking of “The Babysitter” where many males fantasize about what they’d like to do to the poor girl.

  26. Ev Murdock November 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Reread the President’s speech at the end of the story. To me, it sounds like the voice of the author: To desire something . . . is to lose it. . . . the tragic illusion of perpetuity . . . The ludicrous plot in which we are all trapped . . . the random drift of human affairs to some sort of unknowable but glimpsable divine motion, attempting to attach a certain grandeur to it, the delusion of meaning. But we are characters who do not exist, in a story composed by no one from nothing.

  27. Mike July 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Very late here. i also let my NYers stack up to be read later.
    This story reminded me all the way through of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday where all the conspirators, one after another, are revealed to be non-conspirators, and a long chase scene ensues.
    I don’t see much of a reason to pick out a particular traitor. There is just a sort of a moral breakdown posing as a righteous political coup.

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