The Public Burningby Robert Coover
A controversial best-seller in 1977, The Public Burning has since emerged as one of the most influential novels of our time. The first major work of contemporary fiction ever to use living historical figures as characters, the novel reimagines the three fateful days in 1953 that culminated with the execution of alleged atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Vice-President Richard Nixonthe voraciously ambitious bad boy of the Eisenhower regimeis the dominant narrator in an enormous cast that includes Betty Crocker, Joe McCarthy, the Marx Brothers, Walter Winchell, Uncle Sam, his adversary The Phantom, and Time magazine incarnated as the National Poet Laureate. All of these and thousands more converge in Times Square for the carnivalesque auto-da-fe at which the Rosenbergs are put to death. And not a person present escapes implication in Cold War America's ruthless "public burning."
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Robert Coover's "The Public Burning" is set around the 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Told largely from the perspective of a plotting, delusional, emotional, and remarkably human Richard Nixon, then Vice-President of the United States, the novel pulls in innumerable pop culture references (like Uncle Sam, Betty Crocker, the Marx Brothers, etc.) and even interweaves segments of original writings from the era (like Time Magazine) to striking effect. Undoubtedly, you'll need to reread the book a few times in order to fully appreciate the richness of Coover's text and to marvel at the complex and sympathetic portrait of Nixon that develops throughout the text. "The Public Burning" is a postmodern treatise on the chaos and madness that rest in the heart of American political power; in the wake of the Clinton sex scandal and the increasingly sordid scandals facing America's politicians, the novel is more relevant than ever.