Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Robert Coover's “The Crabapple Tree” was originally published in the January 12, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
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Robert Coover’s modern fairy tales, as published in The New Yorker, have been witty, arch, and wicked.

“The Crabapple Tree,” another in the series, has a different flavor: mordant, maybe, or darkly detached. Tart or sour are the words that come to mind.

Coincidentally, the Disney movie musical of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (that fantastic amalgam of fairy tales for adults) has just opened. The New York Times calls it “splendid” and set in “a world ravaged by catastrophe.” The musical has this going for it: although the people are, in the end, alone in a cruel world, the bright light is that here and there they keep each other company and, occasionally, they are able to offer each other solace or help.

Coover’s story has none of that hopefulness. It’s more a story about story-telling than it is a story:  everyone (or almost everyone) in this piece has a story, and some of the stories are stories told about someone else’s story. Kind of like us here — reading stories, retelling them, giving them our own take.

I get the sense that Coover’s not so enamored of everyone’s stories about stories. He has one character break the nose of another when someone accosts him with a story he’s heard about the guy’s wife. We’re talking about story as art versus story as gossip or story as witch hunting and the way we half see everything and have to use labels to interpret the world.

“The Crabapple Tree” has eight characters: Dickie-boy (a weakling), his father (the mostly absent guy who is also a drinker), Dickie-boy’s mother (the bleeder), his step-mother (the Vamp), and his step sister Marleen. Marleen is a kind of managerial older sister/performance artist. The most important character, however, may be the narrator, a now-old neighbor lady whose daughter was once a friend of Marleen’s. The narrator’s daughter, the police chief, and the fire chief round out the crew.

There is a kind of confusion to the story that put me off on my first run-through. Now I kind of think that confusion is part of Coover’s intent, as if he is replicating the way gossip and misunderstanding both garble real life.

The old woman is basically retelling the story of Marleen’s life. She says that Marleen had a gift — she could make people “well again.” But Marleen was also the kind of person who rattled people, scared them: when Marleen was around, the narrator says she would stumble and drop things. There is the whiff of witchery to Marleen — she talks to herself — although neither Coover nor the old lady uses the word itself. But there is also in Marleen the whiff of the artist — as someone who has a gift.

Things take a bad turn.

Then, one day, when Marleen was dragging him around by his soft ankles, his head broke off. That scared my daughter. She came home crying, though eventually she went back again. Marleen told her that her mother hated Dickie-boy and had cut his head off and then glued it back on without telling Marleen, so that the head would come off again while they were playing and she’d be blamed for it. But the police chief, who went to investigate the death, told me that, after talking with the boy’s folks, he was convinced it was just a tragic household accident that the little girl was inventing wild stories about.

They buried the boy under the crabapple tree, where his mother had also been buried. The narrator’s daughter hears from Marleen that her step-mother had cooked Dickie-boy in a stew and served it to his father (echoes of ancient Greece). The story is that Marleen was playing with the boy’s bones.

The police chief is sure it’s just a kid’s story. The fire chief actually accosts Dickie-boy’s dad on the subject and gets his nose broken. And then, in turn, Dickie-boy’s father dies.

That the Vamp had killed her stepson, poisoned her husband, abandoned her daughter, and gone on the run was the general opinion, but my daughter said she wasn’t so sure.

Marleen grows up, becomes very strange, and perhaps becomes a slut or a prostitute like her mother. “Over the years, we got used to thinking of Marleen as something eerie but mostly harmless at the edge of our lives.”

I really do not have a proper take on this story. It repelled me when I first read it, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Now I have read it carefully a second time. Usually, by this time, some sense of the author’s intent has occurred to me. Here, I just don’t know. The best I can do is that I sense a distinct distaste that the author has for the narrator, an old woman who enjoys retelling stories and perhaps getting them wrong. She enjoys her relationship to power (her flings with the police chief and the fire chief), and she seems to set herself up as an authority.

Finally, everyone at this farm is dead but Marleen. She eventually extends her house so as to protect the crab-apple tree — given that once “somebody tried to set fire to the tree.”

I would like to make something of all the significances: the tree, the deaths, the attacks, the story-telling, the outsider, the weakling, the step-mother, the survivor. But the story feels either too big or not big enough. I hope someone else will set me straight.

I wish the story called to me more. I have the sense it’s actually about the art of writing about a story: Marleen is the story-teller while the narrator (and everyone else) is the reader who just doesn’t get it and insists on retelling it anyway, with all her assumptions, misreadings, and voraciousness on display. The crabapple tree would then be inspiration or art or access to art, and Marleen the one who is the real story-teller. Note that Marleen doesn’t eat the apples. Marleen takes the tree as a whole, protects it. It is the narrator, not Marleen, who appears to have eaten the apples, given how she sours everything she touches.

I also note that the narrator, who fills in as the general reader, and the school teacher (who fills in as the school teacher) are both rattled by Marleen, as if some ordinary people are scared by art and put off by it, while Dickie-boy and other children have the ability to be healed by it. The story also, if seen in this vein, would be commenting on the inability of some ordinary people to see the truth in art, as well as the inability of some ordinary people to see the truth in life.

Or maybe winter and my cold office and the 2-below temperature outside all have me stymied. Maybe “The Crabapple Tree” is actually about something else entirely, like scapegoating. Maybe the story is actually about who’s-in-who’s-out and how they get there. I look forward to other people’s comments.

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By |2015-02-03T00:41:38+00:00January 5th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Robert Coover|Tags: |26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Majnun Ben-David January 5, 2015 at 3:58 am

    As usual, my full review (done independently from Betsy’s) is on my website http://majnunbd.com. It’s too long to paste it all in as a reply, but here are a few excerpts of potential interest …

    “The Crabapple Tree” signals it is a tale, in the classic sense, with its first sentence: “This happened here in our town.” The unnamed narrator tells of the growing family of a farmer, with new member being odd in some way.

    The language of this tale flows smoothly. It reads like a modern version of a classic Poe tale, or something from the Brothers Grimm. Given Coover’s reputation as an icon of postmodernism/metafiction, I kept expecting some clear break with the style of a tale, but it never came. I’ve read very little of Coover, so I would be interested to learn whether this story is, broadly speaking, representative of his usual approach to metafiction.

    Regardless, Coover creates an excellent and classic tale here, working in a handful of tropes very smoothly, without drawing undue attention to them or over-saturating the story with them (as, for example, Sondheim’s Into the Woods does, or as Coover himself did in a previous New Yorker story “The Frog Prince”). There are clearly recurring and significant symbols here, particularly birds, bones, and the titular crabapple tree. But I don’t have a strong sense of what — pardon the hack phrase — they are meant to signify.

    So what’s going on here? Is the master of metafiction playing it (kinda sorta) straight? This New Yorker story seems to lack the usual accompanying question-and-answer with the author, so there’s no help to be found there. But there’s an interesting interview with Coover on Bookslut from early 2010 about his novel “Noir” that may shed some light on this story as well.

    Specifically, Coover states: “I have essayed frequently on this topic, distinguishing between myth and tale as between the sacred and the profane — sky-writing and earth-writing — but judging them both to be conservative forms, content to remain close to the comforting mental habits of the past. People, fearing their own extinction, are willing to accept and perpetuate hand-me-down answers to the meaning of life and death; and, fearing a weakening of the tribal structures that sustain them, reinforce with their tales the conventional notions of justice, freedom, law and order, nature, family, etc. The writer, lone rider, has the power, if not always the skills, wisdom, or desire, to disturb this false contentment. “ (Again, full credit goes to Sean P. Carroll for doing and publishing this interview at http://www.bookslut.com/features/2010_03_015786.php).

    If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that “The Crabapple Tree” might be a faux-tale. That is, it has the elements and structure of a traditional tale, but it lacks the underlying (and usually fairly apparent) symbolic meaning. We try to assign meaning to the symbols in the story in order to perpetuate the “eternal verities.” But the point is, I’d guess, that the time (something this story plays with the reader’s perception of, as seen in the first four paragraphs of this story) for such things has past, if it ever indeed existed.

    We have, on the one hand, the world of the tale, where the farmer’s children are touched and a crabapple tree looms over us with symbolic portent. On the other hand, we have the narrator’s asides, which could be read as merely the standard devices in tales to provide context and plausibility. Our focus, naturally, goes to the former, the featured elements of the tale. But look again at the “asides” of the narrator. There is a story in them as well, of people looking for love, or even a stable relationship, and not finding it. Of institutions (police, firefighters) failing to carry out their basic functions. Of children left to raise themselves.

    In the face of these manifold problems of modernity, we still look for old truths to comfort us. Much as we look under the crabapple tree for the bones of the past, as if we can make a stew of them today that will somehow give us the nourishment that we’re lacking. But we’d really just be eating the bones of our ancestors, as that’s all they have to offer us now. They don’t have solutions or answers. We’ll have to come up with those ourselves. Our contentment with tales is a false one.

    I can’t point to much to support the above, so I am admittedly out on a limb. The one piece of “evidence” that kept the above from the delete key is this: crabapple trees do not produce edible fruit. Instead, they are used as rootstocks and pollinizers in apple orchards. In other words, they are a receptive and reliable substrate onto which flavorful apples can be grafted, much as we graft our modern hopes and fears onto ancient tales and then guard them with care.

    But I would be very interested to hear other takes on this tale, especially from those with more familiarity with Coover’s work.

  2. Miguel St. Orberose January 5, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I had the pleasure of reading The Public Burning two months ago, it’s one of the most spectacular novels I’ve ever read!

  3. Julian Wyllie January 5, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. I didn’t connect with the story for some reason.

  4. Trevor Berrett January 6, 2015 at 1:37 am

    I finished the story, pleased to see that Coover is still following his trend of telling a horrific contemporary story in old fairy tale language. I will post more thoughts soon, but I think part of the fun is seeing beyond the fairy tale tropes and to the terrors of the modern world.

  5. Trevor Berrett January 9, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Betsy’s thoughts above.

    I didn’t think about the story-telling aspect while reading it, but definitely the narrator is retelling stories. What I find most interesting, though, is her tone, the way she repeats the stories as if they are not as horrific as they are; rather, they feel like curiosities, and at most we get a kind of “well, I’ll be” tone that is completely incongruous with the horrors. It’s kind of like a fairy tale in that way. The language and tone often cover up the horrors on display, and we think they’re so charming we tell them to our children!

  6. Susan Wood January 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    I will say this for “The Crabapple Tree,” it hooked me with the first sentence, kept me till I’d finished it and thoroughly creeped me out. So at the most basic level it achieved everything that a scary tale should. I’m not familiar with this author’s work, and didn’t read the story for symbolism or “metafiction,” just for the frustrating but enthralling story, filtered through layer upon layer of unreliable narrators. The woman telling the story heard most of the key details from her daughter. How much can we trust the daughter? Her bizarre story about “Dickie-boy’s” death indicates that it was the daughter herself who was accidentally responsible. Was she? Were she and the eerie Marleen both responsible, or is Marleen a scapegoat for the daughter’s actions, as the daughter in turn claims that Marleen tries to scapegoat her mother “Vamp?” Later, the narrator’s daughter implies, but doesn’t say in so many words, that she knows something about the mysterious disappearance of “Vamp.” Was she involved in that event as well? Is the police chief’s account of the child’s death any more reliable than that of the narrator’s daughter? And what does it all have to do with the greater meaning of the universe? I have no clue, but it got to me!

  7. Betsy January 9, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks, Majnun, for your wonderful assay of the Coover story. Thanks very much for the Bookslut interview and link.

    “People, fearing their own extinction, are willing to accept and perpetuate hand-me-down answers to the meaning of life and death; and, fearing a weakening of the tribal structures that sustain them, reinforce with their tales the conventional notions of justice, freedom, law and order, nature, family, etc. The writer, lone rider, has the power, if not always the skills, wisdom, or desire, to disturb this false contentment,” says Coover.

    Great stuff! stuffing tales with “conventional notions!” Coover does not disappoint!

    But Majnun! I think you read the story at midnight and complete your thoughts before dawn. Or do you have the edge on me, dawn-wise? Are you actually writing from another continent, and my midnight is your noon? In that case, you will have the best of me every time!

    My other time related question is that I see you posted at (my time – New Yorker time) at 3:58 A.M. That means it took you four hours to read the story, develop you ideas, write the post – and post it – twice! How close am I to that? I ask – because that’s how long it takes me – or sometimes much longer.

    But of course, we’re all different. You probably didn’t start until 2:58.

    Welcome, Miguel and Susan – so glad to hear how much you enjoy Coover.

    Nice to hear from you, Julian.

  8. Majnun Ben-David January 9, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    First, thanks to the Mookse and the Gripes crew for providing a forum to discuss these stories with others who are interested.

    Second, another nod to Betsy for her thoughtful thoughts. I too was uncertain of Coover’s intent here, though I definitely agree with Susan that you can enjoy a story without trying to parse its deeper meaning. For this story, though, the presence of some rather obvious symbols in the story (e.g., the titular tree) made me feel that there was supposed to be a parallel narrative beneath the surface account. But I had a heck of a time trying to figure out what, if anything, Coover was trying to say with his choice of symbols.

    For example, the crabapple tree clearly plays a central role in the story, and takes on a mysterious/powerful aura. Why a crabapple tree? Why not a walnut tree or a birch? In more realist stories, such as last weeks “The Ways,” I suspect such choices are often arbitrary. In a tale like this one, I feel like Coover has chosen crabapple for some symbolic purpose. I just struggled figuring out what that purpose might be.

    While I try to take each story as it comes, I’ll confess that my expectation of a parallel narrative was heightened by Coover’s reputation as a master of metafiction. So while I allow for the possibility that he was playing it (more or less) “straight” in this story, and just telling a tale for the sake of telling a tale, that struck me as unlikely given his background. I think it’s still fine to enjoy it as a tale, though, and it may well be a fool’s errand to dig for more.

    As I relate in my comment above, I ultimately guessed (and it is just a guess) that Coover’s point was that we try to read in symbolic meaning to the elements of a tale, but we’re really just grafting our (conventional) expectations on to reality.

    But I also like Betsy’s point about the role of storytelling in this story, and the hazards that activity entails. I hadn’t seen that in my own readings, but when you pointed it out, it made very good sense.

    As for it being a scary story, I agree … but I actually found the glimpses of the narrator’s life to be gloomier than the rather gothic goings-on we hear about on the farm.

    Time-wise, I am currently on West Coast USA time (though this is unlikely to be true for too long). The New Yorker seems to post the short story around midnight East Coast time, thus 9pm or so my time. For this one, I don’t think I got started until late, like perhaps 10pm? If memory serves, it was about 2 hours in total to read the story and then work back through it while writing my remarks on it. But this was a shorter story, and I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, so I think that’s on the shorter/faster end of things. It’s not a race, though!

    In fact, I see the speed as something of a shortcoming, thus the disclaimer I post with my full review on my own website: “The above is my initial reaction to the story, written without revision. ‘New Yorker Notes’ are meant to be timely notes, rather than deep analyses.”

    Again, it’s great fun to be able to discuss this story with others, and I look forward to hearing (and thus learning) more from everyone, if not on this story then on next week’s!

  9. Betsy January 9, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks so much, Majnun, for taking me up on the timing discussion. The time it takes to think about a story is a factor for me. I actually tried (once) reading the story at midnight and then writing about it next morning, even though that was completely at odds with my usual schedule. I’m a great believer in the power of sleep to consolidate thought. But it doesn’t work if the whole thing makes youu tired! So that experiment was a dismal failure.

    Therefore I returned to getting up on Monday, reading the story first thing, and then deciding whether to write about it that morning or let it percolate. This week, I decided to let it percolate.

    Anyway – so glad to have you with us, Majnun, and everyone else as well.

    Also glad to have another Robert Coover. I hope he is planning on bringing these out in a collection. I think they would really work well together.

  10. David Abad January 10, 2015 at 5:22 am

    I don’t feel I can shed much light on the questions that have been raised, but I can contribute one fact: this story is definitely a retelling of one in particular of the Grimms’ tales: The Juniper Tree.

  11. Trevor Berrett January 10, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks David — that’s very helpful!

    I’m also with Betsy in thinking these stories will work together well in a collection. In fact, that may be where they really shine, because I don’t think any of them have been particularly clear or filled with symbolic meaning on their own. Rather, I think that together we’ll get a better sense of what Coover is doing, which I think is more to the point than what he is saying.

  12. Betsy January 10, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks, David! This is superb! Here’s one version: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Juniper_Tree_%28fairy_tale%29)

    This particular story was not in my beloved (very long) edition from childhood. Now that I have read the Grimm’s version of “The Juniper Tree” , I see that relationship is crystal clear. I like the original immensely. It’s really scary and has a possibly happy ending.

    The question is, has Coover used “The Juniper Tree” effectively?

  13. Susan Wood January 10, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    David: Wow, it sure is! Thank you! I didn’t know “The Juniper Tree,” because it wasn’t in my childhood edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales (too dark, perhaps) but that’s exactly it, including the name “Marleen!” And “Dicky Boy” sounds a bit like “Dicky Bird,” doesn’t it? In the story the boy comes back first as a bird and then as himself. Now I get it about the birds.

  14. Roger January 10, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    My thanks to David, too; I’d forgotten about “The Juniper Tree.” In that story, the wicked stepmother is punished and the boy comes back to life (I think). Whereas in Coover’s story, the Vamp escapes and the boy stays dead. I’ve seen Coover say in interviews that he considers himself a realist. With that in mind, this story may simply be Coover’s take on the amorality (at best) of life. In the fairy tale, there is justice, but in Coover’s “realist” revision, there is none.

  15. Susan Wood January 11, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Having now read the Grimm fairy tale and re-read Coover’s story, I understand what you’ve all been discussing about “meta-fiction,” and Coover’s story now makes complete sense. As everyone has noticed, we have two stories here, a frame story about the narrator, her failed marriage, her affairs and her eventual, loveless remarriage. Her story about adultery, failed relationships, jealousies, suspicion and scapegoating of outsiders, is all too believable.And then within that, we have the fantastical Brothers Grimm story about the wicked stepmother, the magical tree that embodies the spirit of the stepchild’s dead mother, the murdered child and the sister who revives her dead brother with the aid of the magical tree, told just about point for point the same as in the German folk story. The folk tale is filtered through hearsay, as folklore should be, and it belongs to the world of the children, but the adult narrator believes some of it, while trying to put a rationalistic spin on other parts.

    Of course, now that I know what Coover was up to I can see that he tells us so repeatedly. (As Charlie Chan used to say, Number One Son sees very clearly when the picture is held directly in front of his eyes). He tells us that Marleen seems to belong to a story-book world. He uses the phrase “singing bones,” a common topos in folk tales, and of course, the murdered child’s return to life in the form of a beautiful bird is a variation on that very familiar theme. And there’s a structural parallel between the way the fairy tale world and the “real” adult world interact. In the folk tale, the bird that arises from the boy’s bones flies around the town singing his story of betrayal and murder to three separate audiences, and they give him the tools that he needs to reward his father and sister, and to terminate his wicked stepmother with extreme prejudice. But not one of those people actually listen to the words of his song; they’re just delighted with the beauty of his singing. So, as the sheriff in Cool Hand Luke would say, what we have here is failure to communicate between the world of children and adults, the world of fantasy in which justice is done and goodness triumphs and the “real” world in which that doesn’t happen. Did Coover use the fairy tale material effectively? I’d say absolutely yes! I found the story intriguing when I read it more or less at face value, but now I appreciate it considerably more. I have to read more of this author’s work, clearly. Thanks, David, Betsy, and everyone!

  16. Betsy January 11, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Great stuff, Susan, so well done.

    David – many thanks and also a question. How did you know this was Grimm’s “Juniper Tree”?

  17. David Abad January 11, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    I didn’t know The Juniper Tree as a child. I first came to know it through a stage adaptation, The Hungry Tree, produced by Nightletter Theater in San Francisco.

    Maybe the question is at what point in reading did I become aware that the story was a retelling of The Juniper Tree. I didn’t remember that Marlene is the name of the girl in The Juniper Tree, but of course the scenario of a child whose mother is dead and who is being mistreated by a stepmother reminded me of fairy tales, and the fact that the title referred to a tree made me think of The Juniper Tree. I thought the similarities were just in my mind, though, until the story reached the part about the stepmother having cut the boy’s head off and then reattached it so that her daughter could knock it off again: that’s when I sat up and said, “Oh, this actually IS a version of The Juniper Tree.”

    I’m wondering what Coover gains by making Marleen the boy’s stepsister as opposed to his half-sister in Grimm. It’s the only way she could be the elder of the two, of course. And why have the father die rather than survive? (It’s not so clear, by the way, that the stepmother escapes rather than dying, or that the boy doesn’t come back to life — there is some ambiguity on both of those points in The Crabapple Tree.)

    Majnun has already offered an idea about why the Grimms’ juniper tree became Coover’s crabapple tree.

  18. Majnun Ben-David January 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    David! Great find with The Juniper Tree. That’s the “key” I was missing, but felt that had to be there. Many thanks for sharing that, along with your thoughts. I mentioned in my initial review that the story struck me as something out of Grimm’s, but I too was unaware of The Juniper Tree.

    I think this is a great illustration of the value of this forum because I now have a much better understanding of this story than I would ever have gotten to on my own. It’s like a graduate seminar, but for free and without the posturing! Thanks to all.

  19. danthelawyer January 13, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Wow. This is so awesome. When I read the story a couple of days ago, I sort of dismissed it as a charming — even cute — little story. Now that I understand its roots, it seems like so much more. This is why I keep coming back to the M&G.

    Oh, and I just added the story to the “adaptations” section of the Wikipedia entry on “The Juniper Tree.”

  20. lotusgreen January 14, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I get the same feeling every time I read a Coover story, which is not often, but I’m far from being able to put it into words. I feel like he’s fucking with us. Maybe that’s it. I remember before distance became the default stance. Before snarky was cool. I feel like taking him by the shoulders and shaking him, yelling, “You’re smarter than this!” He could be creating his own myths and instead he does “takes” on the mythology that surrounds us, in a failed, from my opinion, attempt to seem above it all. What he seems instead is trite.

  21. Susan Wood January 15, 2015 at 8:25 am

    lotusgreen, you’re entitled to your opinion of course, but what Coover does is a very venerable tradition in literature, and before that in oral mythology. Storytellers of course borrowed from one another and added their own embellishments to traditional stories for as long as people have told yarns around the campfire. Homer and other pre-literate bards reworked centuries of that lore into their epics. Vergil appropriated Homer wholesale to promote patriotic Roman sentiment. Ovid turned mythology into sly commentaries on his own time. Apuleius put a contemporary Roman citizen into the fairy-tale world of “The Golden Ass,” and turned another batch of folklore into a parable about salvation through the religion of Isis. Shakespeare took almost all of the plots of his comedies and tragedies from earlier sources. Etc. etc. etc. Whether you think Coover does it well is another question, of course, but Vergil certainly expected his audience to understand how he was appropriating and re-using Homer to create a national mythology for Rome, and at least some of Shakespeare’s audience probably got pleasure from recognizing the old story and watching what that clever young man from Stratford was doing with it.

  22. lotusgreen January 15, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Susan — Thank you! I am in awe of your scholarship. I think it would take me some time to come to my argument, so I’ll put that off and let it simmer. For the moment I’ll only say that learning of “The Juniper Tree” did not alter my appreciation of the Coover story. And that perhaps it’s my sense of humor that differs here rather than my sense of literary history.

  23. Greg January 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Thank you David for making the link to the original story, and thanks Susan for helping all of us to see what Coover was meaning to show us – That the real world does not have the justice that is in fantasy. I hope that both of you will continue to give your opinions on upcoming stories!

  24. Madwomanintheattic February 1, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I’m with Lotusgreen on this one. Trite, and may I say, boring. I don’t need characters to be immediately and intensely engaging, but I would like them to have some link to humanity, or consistency, or verisimilitude. I know this story is ‘above’ being character-driven, but Coover’s private mythology doesn’t interest me.

  25. Ken February 12, 2015 at 2:51 am

    It seems that his point, which the sleuths above have very cleverly found, is very hidden. Should a writer’s point really be this hard to find? I enjoyed the story, though, and saw it as part of a large project of Coover’s of late. I don’t think it’s anywhere as good as his earlier works, but an interesting little corpus nevertheless.

  26. Sal January 17, 2018 at 1:19 am

    All very interesting. It’s satisfying to read that many of you struggled to crack the code of this odd story. My daughter’s 10th grade honors English class was given The Crabapple Tree to read in class and then assigned an essay on a Friday afternoon due at 11:59 pm that night. The prompt? In The Crabapple Tree Robert Coover delivers several important messages to his readers. In a well-developed response, explain what one of these themes is and explain how two literary elements help to deliver this message. Our daughter asked her father and me to read the short story so that we might detect and discuss possible themes with her. Both of us held a glass of wine and hold advanced degrees; we finished reading with a shared WTF and were of no help. We did keep circling back to the birds but to no avail. In tears just before midnight with me still up for moral support daughter submitted something that was later given a C with nary a comment. Seems to me this short-notice assignment to high school sophomores on a Friday night in October by a teacher is about as cruel as the story. That”s the only meaning our family drew from it.

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