Friday, June 21, 2013

Robert Coover's "A Political Fable" or, the Strangest Little Book You'll Ever Read

      Novellas don't really seem to get their fair share of attention, often cast out of the limelight by novels and short stories.  In fact, Coover's A Political Fable was originally published in 1968 as a short story with the much more descriptive title The Cat in the Hat for President.  An odd premise, sure, but what you can't understand until you read this is how terrifying that would be in actuality.  The Cat in the Hat is unlimited by the laws of physics or reason.  His antics drive people to insanity.  He can and does anything, seemingly without rhyme or reason (well, not without rhyme), but there always seems to be some deeper, unfathomable purpose to his actions, whether they're flooding a convention hall and having everyone swallowed alive by giant fish or turning hundreds of coon-skin caps into live raccoons.  
      The story itself is, as the title suggests, a fable, with a message to be learned about politics and order and society, etc.  Still, the story is very, extremely, and totally weird.  The blend of the mundane (party politics, voter demographics, etc.) and the bizarre (a magic anthropomorphic cat) creates a very unsettling effect which is only magnified by the way the mundane seems to not only accept, but welcome the bizarre.  And that's part of what makes this the strangest little book you'll ever read: the way the ordinary blends with the unbelievable, the way the innocuous blends with the obscene, the way reason meets nonsense until the difference becomes muddled.  It's a short, quick read, but one hell of a trip. 

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