“Treatments”
by Robert Coover
from the April 30, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Robert Coover is back, this time with a trio of brief sketches meant to evoke filmic “treatment” of a few terrifying situations. In the first, an older actress playing Beauty finds herself genuinely terrified of Beast; nevertheless, she goes into the forest that gets more and more real. In the second, a gang of escaped convicts perform a musical version of a home invasion (I learned from Coover’s interview with Deborah Treisman that this is based on William Wyler’s 1955, Bogart-starring film, The Desperate Hours). In the third, the Lone Ranger trades his white hat for black.

Because each is short, I have already been able to read them all. Coover is, once again, really speeding along, summarizing significant-seeming events in a life within a single paragraph. Each piece contains dozens of transitions that suddenly take us further. Thus emotional development takes a back seat to comic and thematic development. In that way, the three pieces fit together nicely, each feeling like a quick ride in a theme park . . . albeit, a dark theme park.

And I’m not entirely sure what Coover is up to with them, what he’s trying to say, if he’s trying to “say” anything at all. In the interview, Coover states that his “fiction is probably best defined by its lifelong engagement with the myths that environ us — religious, patriotic, literary, erotic, popular, etc.” Here he is playing with film as a method of conveying such myths, with all of the associated cultural assumptions (and some of the convenient speed, though this is as much a Cooverism as it is any particular method of working these treatments). They are interesting, but I don’t find them particularly engaging, and I don’t know quite what else to make of it. Happy for some help!

If this is your thing, you’ll be happy to know that they will appear in a forthcoming collection, Son of a Night at the Movies (though I cannot find a publication date yet, just mention of it in the interview with Triesman).

I’m anxious to see how you all feel about these “treatments.” What is Coover doing. He’s obviously playing around, but is it more?

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