A tour de force that rings an astonishing series of changes on the familiar fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. The prolific Coover (John's Wife, p. 155, etc.) has always been fascinated with the sheer playful possibilities of fiction, and with the many kinds of intentions that a seemingly straightforward narrative conceals. In this brief, dense work, he explores--in the contrasting voices of Sleeping Beauty and her resolute Prince as he fights his way to her bedchamber to awaken her from a deathly enchanted sleep--a remarkable number of interpretative possibilities lying just below the surface of the tale. The series of brief meditations by the two that compose the book suggest at various times that the story is really about the powers of the imagination (the two lovers-to-be have distinct ideas about what each represents to the other), about the masculine need to create a lovely, will-less female object of beauty, about the need of women to resist (by sleep, if nothing else) the kinds of male yearnings projected onto them, about the nature of desire itself (``You are that flame,'' Beauty is told, ``flickering like a burning fever in the hearts of men, consuming them with desire, bewitching them with your radiant and mysterious allure''), or about the anarchic power of the storytelling drive (``The awful powers of enchantment'') to take over a tale, to reassemble itself in a ``dangerous and inviolate'' form in defiance of an author's conscious intentions. The tale is also an amusing parody of literary scholarship, of its willingness to force polemical meanings onto a work of the imagination. All of this is rendered in a precise, vigorous, droll prose. There's no doubt that Coover can do almost anything he wants. But his reluctance to finally settle for any culminating metaphor makes this unique work seem more of a collection of masterful, cerebral turns than a living, persuasive tale.