by Robert Coover ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 1980
The Cat in the Hat for President"": that was the title of this satire when first published in 1968 (in the literary magazine New American Review)--and that's the single, inspired, ferocious joke (dated not one whit) that keeps most of these 88 miniature pages roaring along. Coover's narrator is old party pro ""Soothsayer"" Brown, who goes to the Convention hoping to hand-pick the V-P candidate for this no-win election year (the Opponent will be virtually undefeatable). . . and then watches as the Convention turns into a circus: first a catchy slogan starts appearing everywhere (""Let's make the White House a Cat House""); next, an irresistible campaign song fills the air (""So go to bat for the Cat in the Hat!/He's the Cat who knows where it's at!/With Tricks and Voom and Things like that!""); then funny hats, gorgeous cheerleaders, cute gags--and finally the arrival of the Cat himself, who pulls Seuss-like stunts, wreaks cartoon havoc, wows the crowd, and wins the nomination on the first ballot. Brown is the party's last hold-out, but even he grudgingly goes along. After all, he can't deny ""the Cat's essential ambiguity. . . thus his electoral power."" And he's only half-revolted by the philosophy of the man behind the Cat--a creep named Clark who believes that ""extremity is a great catalyst,"" that the Cat's outrageous campaign will free America of its illusions. But the Cat's antics--gross practical jokes, driving the Opponent bonkers with those hat-tricks, fomenting racial riots in Mississippi (""the Cat's ambivalent blackness, heretofore a political asset, now turned on him"")--eventually get out of hand; there's talk of a military coup; ""all the Good Folk of the Valley"" now hate the Cat; and he's skinned alive by an angry mob. True, Coover pushes this finale into the sort of excess and literalism that so thoroughly undermined The Public Burning: ""While the Cat burned, the throng fucked in a great conglobation of races, sexes, ages, and convictions; it was the Great American Dream in oily actuality. . ."" But otherwise the sheer awful exuberance of the central absurdity here--which somehow, paradoxically, tempers Coover's naked loathing with Seuss' more good-natured mania--works to perfection: a devastating, across-the-board swipe at presidential imagery and campaign hype, perhaps even righter for Election '80 than it was for the more issue-centered nightmares of '68.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1980
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1980
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