John's Wife

John's Wife

by Robert Coover

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A satirical fable of small-town America centers on a builder's wife and the erotic power she exerts over her neighbors, transforming before their eyes and changing forever their notions of right and wrong.


A satirical fable of small-town America centers on a builder's wife and the erotic power she exerts over her neighbors, transforming before their eyes and changing forever their notions of right and wrong.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review PW called this novel of a small-town mall-builder and his disappearing wife "biting and suggestive, a spicy blend of erudition and scatology, epic and farce." (Apr.)
Library Journal
John may be a hotshot architect, but it's John's wife who has everyone in thrall in his small town. More sharp-edged observations from the author of A Night at the Movies (Dalkey Archive, 1992).
Mary Carroll
John's "money, family, power, good health, high regard, many friends"--and ruthless amorality--dominate his small town on the windswept plain both physically and economically, but it is his spouse's "thereness that was not there" that obsesses his neighbors. "Coveted object, elusive mystery, beloved ideal, hated rival, princess, saint, or social asset, John's wife elicited opinions and emotions as varied and numerous as the townsfolk themselves, her unknowability being finally all they could agree upon, and even then with reservations." As a near-omniscient narrator wanders at will through the dreams and memories, vivid fantasies and contorted psychologies of everyone "else" in town, John's wife is opaque, Object to every other character's Subject. This being postmodernist Coover, reality's boundaries bend and warp: the title character vanishes and reappears; the preacher's wife delivers not-quite twins; Pauline, who has a long history with John, develops an insatiable hunger and begins to grow. At once kaleidoscopic and claustrophobic, bawdy, disturbing, and psychologically penetrating, "John's Wife" deploys a townful of vivid characters and a cat's cradle of complexly interwoven plots to explore some of the puzzles that define the human condition.
Carey Harrison
Once again, Coover…proves himself the supreme chronicler of the unreality of American life.
San Francisco Chronicle
Merle Rubin
Mr. Coover constructs a scathing portrait of small—town life, especially its dark underside of envy, lust and exploitation….There is a great deal of energy…in John's Wife,…making Mr. Coover a novelist…to be reckoned with.
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Remarkable….If it is possible anywhere to grieve with joy, then Mr. Coover's cheerfully psychotic world is the place for it.
The New York Times
Michael Wood
John's Wife…is Our Town scored as a scabrous fairy tale.
The New York Review of Books
Peter Landry
Coover's town maybe small, but his ideas aren't.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Kirkus Reviews
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 dénouement 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.

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Dzanc Books
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