JOHN'S WIFE by Robert Coover
Kirkus Star

JOHN'S WIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Our most abrasive and challenging postmodernist (Pinocchio in Venice, 1990, etc.) writes at pretty nearly peak level in this mock-epic chronicle of the vagaries of sex, greed, and death in an unnamed midwestern town whose inhabitants are all linked together by their admiration for--or friendship or obsession with--the opaque title character. John is a prominent building contractor, wealthy and successful beyond his envious neighbors' wildest dreams. His gorgeous wife (herself unnamed) ""always seemed,"" we're told, ""to be at the very heart of things in town, an endearing and ubiquitous presence, yet few of the town's citizens, if asked, could have described her."" Nevertheless, Gordon, the local photographer, surreptitiously snaps pictures of her unawares; Floyd, who manages John's hardware stores, has blunter designs on her beauty; Ellsworth, who edits the Town Crier and nurses artistic pretensions, makes her the heroine of his fondest fantasies; Daphne, her best friend, wonders whether she really knows her at all. The woman makes only teasing, fleeting appearances throughout, and we never come to know her. We are, however, made privy to a rich, raffish cross-section of village life, a generous array of sharply realized characters: Otis the lawman, reluctantly involved with Gordon's notorious wife Pauline, a pathetic victim of childhood sexual abuse for whom a violent fate awaits; ""Mad Marge,"" the woman who can't get along with anybody and perversely decides to run for mayor; and a ragtag collection of hormonally unsettled teenagers whose melodramatic rites of passage are transcribed with delicious wit. It's fun watching Coover pull all this random (and randy) material together, his energy never flagging, as the novel surges toward its extended climax during the town's annual Pioneers Day barbecue--then toward a stunning d‚nouement that expertly plaits together a dozen or more loose ends and offers, for good measure, an unnerving surprise on the very last page. A pitch-perfect, pitch-black comedy, and one of Coover's most elegant and entertaining books yet.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0684830434
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster