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Pricksongs and Descants

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  983 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
In his carnivalesque and riotously inventive Pricksongs & Descants Robert Coover remakes old stories: of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Beauty (who married her Beast and spends a lifetime suffering his doggy stink). And he reshapes his own: a man makes repeating, re-imagined journeys in an office elevator (while his fellow riders taunt and tempt him), and in t ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 28th 2011 by Penguin Classics (first published 1969)
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Ian Vinogradus
Legendary Narratives

This collection of early stories is not a lesser work in any way. In it, Coover maps out the journey that his writing career would subsequently follow. It announces and displays his early ambition and skill.

It reflects a dual interest in the subject matter of fiction and its methodology. As Coover says of some of his stories, in retrospect:

"...great narratives remain meaningful through time as a language-medium between generations, as a weapon against the fringe-areas of our
MJ Nicholls
One of the milestones, or pilestones, in self-reflexive fiction, the influence of Pricksongs & Descants among the subsequent two generations of humorous imps, genrebenders, and transgressive egomaniacs in experimental prose fiction, is plain to see. Metafantastical fables, reworkings of reworkings, forking paths and fucking piths, numerical mini-chapters, self-regarding scoundrels for narrators, black humour, mindless surrealism, incomprehensible but entertaining indulgences, sneaky s-o-c, s ...more
May 05, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

In his piece "For Bob" collected in the 2012 The Review of Contemporary Fiction dedicated to Coover, author Joe Ashby Porter says about his first encounter with this book: " so bowled me over I had to teach it to understand it better." A perfect explanation to how this collection of stories feels upon the first reading.

Coover does more than deconstruct familiar myths and fairy tales - he was one of those first writers that wanted to do something more with the structure of fiction. Some of t
Paul Bryant
So farewell forever, then, to metafiction. This is the stuff where it says

I wander the island, inventing it. I make a sun for it, and trees, and cause water to lap the pebbles of its abandoned shores.

which is how The Magic Poker kicks off in this volume.

Metafiction - yeah, that's right - it's fiction about fiction, celebrating the lying truthfulness and the truthful lies we all need to keep our brains glued together. Apparently. I mean, I don't really know, I just work here.

Now, you know those
Nov 02, 2015 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He pronounces it aloud, smiles faintly, sadly, somewhat wearily, then continues his tedious climb, pausing from time to time to stare back down the stairs behind him.

When the time arrives for resolution, I will be there. One day soon the followers of Coover will engage those of Barth tooth and claw. There will be no quarter. The scene will remind us of Bangkok and we will wear the shirt of Coover proudly. Through the tear-gas and vitriol we will triumph. Our cause will prevail because of the bri
Vit Babenco
Feb 10, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pricksongs & Descants is mostly about the power of human imagination…
“That sweep odour that girls have. The softness of her blouse. He catches a glimpse of the gentle shadows amid her thighs, as she curls her legs up under her.”
Imagination is rich but it plays dirty... And that’s a reason so many prefer to live an imaginary life in a realm where everyone can be a king.
“He loves her. She loves him. And then the babies come. And dirty nappies and one goddamn meal after another. Dishes. Noise.
Jun 25, 2007 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit! This is some crazy something. All the edgy writers that young folk like us like? They don't have shit on this guy. Seriously, my reviews are just utterly devolving. At any rate...literally every fundamental aspect of fiction is toyed with in here: characterization, timeline, voice, perspective. The overall effect is one of complete disorientation, but it's the hardest my brain has had to work to read a book in a long while, and that (to me) is valuable as hell.
Dear Robert,

It was great seeing you again. It’s been sooo long. It was nice to catch-up with one another after, what, 20-years (god, that makes me feel so old!)? Anywho…as hard as it is for me to bring myself to do so, there are some things I ought to say.

Namely, I’m talking about your prick(songs). It had been so long since I’d even thought about your prick(songs) that the idea of revisiting it, well, you know, just seemed kinda fun. But I see now that you really can’t go back. Let’s not kid ou
3.5/5 stars
This was a case of my personal connection with a book not lining up with the work's real impact or excellence. Despite my miserly three star rating, I would recommend reader give Pricksongs and Descants a try. In fact, if I was just going to rate the book on innovation it would get 4.5 stars. My favorite stories were: Quenby and Ola, Swede and Carl; a Pedestrian Accident; the show stopping The Babysitter and the retelling of the story of Noah.

The retelling of Noah is shocking and tra
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I liken this to a circus, with lots of stunts and acrobatics.

So as not to get discouraged or intimidated, skip the first "story" (I should call the stories here more properly as ACTS--like in a real circus) "The Door" because it is not easy to digest (my interpretation of it is that it is some kind of an inter-generational dialogue using the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk as a literary allusion). Go straight to some of the favorites, like "The Babysitter." The characters and the setting: a
Sentimental Surrealist
Coover, wearing a top hat, drives down the street in a hummer, windows rolled down. He's got an MP3 file of his contradictions, recited by Brian Blessed - "ROBERT COOOOOOOOOOO-VUH! The FOLKSSSSY intell-ECT-ual! The chi-chi-chi... CHILLY... (stage whisper) pornographer. Teller of BEDTIIIIIIIME STORIIIESSSSSSSS.... AAAAAAAANNND... horror stories!" He's doing 50 in a 35 zone, but he's bored by that, so he floors it and swerves back and forth across the street, pancaking other cars and busting up pa ...more
It's rare to find a short story collection where every story hits a high note for me, but Coover's done it. Each one is a fabulist gem set in a terrifyingly recognizable world.

I get the feeling that not too many people read Coover anymore, which is a crying shame. After I plowed through Vonnegut as a teenager, I made the next logical step to Pynchon and Barth, and from there discovered the whole wide world of postmodernist fiction, including Coover. I'm buying my 17 year old brother a copy of th
Feb 04, 2016 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001, 1001-challenge
Pricksongs and Descants is a collection of short stories by Robert Coover that was originally published in 1969. The stories are retellings of popular stories including fairy tales, bedtime stories, and a few biblical stories. The Amazon synopsis states the following: "In these riotously word-drunk fictional romps, two children follow an old man into the woods, trailing bread crumbs behind and edging helplessly toward a sinister end that never comes; a husband walks toward the bed where his wife ...more
Ronald Morton
I know, since it’s Coover, that I’m supposed to be a bit more awed by this book than I am.

I don’t want to say that it’s aged poorly, or even that it feels aged – neither of these things are true. It’s just that, reading this in 2014 is (I’m assuming) considerably different than reading it in 1969. So it’s not that it feels aged, it’s just that, under the weight of the last 45 years, it doesn’t really feel as revelatory as it must have upon its publication.

The thing is: it’s still good. It’s stil
Ben Bush
Mar 09, 2010 Ben Bush rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was pretty great. It was the first Coover I'd read and I figured I'd start with the short stories in order to hopefully see the kind of widest range of experimentation. "The Magic Poker" was the story that to me was jaw-dropping but which uses a similar technique to "Babysitter" (which was adapted into an Alicia Silverstone movie.) Both stories have an interesting way of showing a wide range of possible outcomes almost simultaneously. Coover has a kind of interest in these non-linnear games ...more
Sean Masterson
Jul 20, 2012 Sean Masterson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I decided to change my habits and read all short story collections straight through, rather than picking at them from time to time. My aim was to isolate each story and savour each paragraph.

I was prompted to make this decision after tearing through all of George Saunders' work in a week (much the way I did when they made The Wire available on-demand). A year or so later someone asked me about a specific story, by title, and I couldn't remember a thing about it.

Going cover-to-cover on this boo
Jordi Via
Mar 12, 2016 Jordi Via rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Menuda lectura. Estos cuentos dejan poso, escenas que van a permanecer en mi memoria sin ninguna duda durante mucho tiempo y que me costará discernir si las vi en el cine o si fui yo quien las soñó. Además de la estructura, la manera de contar, esas narraciones laberínticas i reiterativas, como si estuvieras en mitad de una pesadilla, son de una extraordinaria originalidad teniendo en cuenta que se publicaron en 1969. Muy recomendable.
Kyle Callahan
Robert Coover is impressive. Let’s start there. It’s not just his writing (which is good; not the best, but definitely good) and it’s not just his structural daring (which, judging by much of contemporary literature, is still ahead of its time, despite the fact that he’s been structurally daring for over thirty years now). No, what’s most impressive about Coover is his imagination. It’s the way he imagines a scene. The writing of it, that’s just how he brings the scene into his reader’s head. G ...more
Josh Luft
Apr 22, 2015 Josh Luft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

In Pricksongs and Descants, Robert Coover messes around with storytelling. The best works in this collection—"The Magic Poker", "The Gingerbread House", and one of the greatest short stories ever, "The Babysitter"—consist of partitioned paragraphs with variations of actions contained within a single story that give you this multi-dimensional/choose-your-own-adventure experience. His style of postmodernism, which, in several of the stories, involves the retelling of biblical and fairy tales,
Oct 19, 2015 Jon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am surprised that I did not read this much earlier than I have. I discovered Coover near the beginning of college, and I was a big fan of "The Babysitter," but I barely gave the collection from which it is drawn a look. Instead, about ten years later, I read his novel John's Wife. The reason for this was threefold. One was that a coworker of mine explained to me the premise of his novel about baseball, which got me intrigued. Second, I had no access to a library at that time, so to meet my usu ...more
Mar 23, 2016 Marcela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read. He is an amazing writer.
Hana Alharastani
Feb 04, 2016 Hana Alharastani rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
1 star for form and style.
Aug 29, 2016 Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5+ out of 5.
I love a good brain tease and Robert Coover's collection brings together some of the very best I've ever experienced, all in one package. This is an exemplary set of stories and not just because most of the tales are delightfully mind-bending, but because reading this collection helps me better understand other works. There's a story in Alexandra Kleeman's new collection, "A Brief History of Weather", that I was suddenly awakened to after reading Coover - and I wonder what the next
Dec 05, 2015 Linda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vipers-2015, fiction
Every aspect of this metafiction is manipulated resulting in a cognitive dissonance that makes my brain ache. Or perhaps I just don't get it. 'The babysitter' was worth reading though.
Enjoyed the Babysitter, which probably deserves more stars, but to be honest some of the other stories in the collection just seem to be padding.
Dec 17, 2015 M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Magic Poker

At times, I forget that this arrangement is my own invention. I begin to think of the island as somehow real, its objects solid and intractable, its condition of ruin not so much an aesthetic design as an historical denouement. I find myself peering into blue teakettles, batting at spiderwebs, and contemplating a greenish-gray growth on the side of a stone parapet.

Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady

Well, let us admit it, perhaps it is ourselves who are corrupted. Perhaps we h
May 07, 2015 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
can't remember reading a book that on the whole I didn't really enjoy. weird, occasionally metafictional ghost stories. recommend "the magic poker" + "the brother" + "the hat act" although "a pedestrian accident" and "the babysitter" and "in a train station" are interesting in their ways. not sure who to recommend these stories to, though...they're grotesque, borderline lewd, incredibly confusing and written to disguise careful playfulness as absurd and haphazard fever dreams. read if you like a ...more
Oliver Bateman
Oct 04, 2011 Oliver Bateman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is representative sample of some of Coover's better work. It didn't stack up to the Universal Baseball Association--that was a fully-rendered and indeed quite beautiful book--but these 20 or so fictions demonstrate a firm command of the tools of fiction writing. Most of them, however, also struck me as cold and heartless, with only "Klee's Dead," "A Pedestrian Accident," "Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady," and "The Babysitter" standing out as especially meaningful (and thus especial ...more
Robert Coover occasionally uses his formidable talent as a post-modern experimentalist to find a voice for his characters, often common, weak men, which would be unavailable to a less adventurous writer. His best stories equal Stanley Elkin's best. Unfortunately, he falls too often into the throw away narrative jokes and gimmicks of the worst of John Barth's work.


I no longer have the patience for this sort of jumbled meta-surrealism, the territory of John Barth and Fellini, and the destruc
Thomas Armstrong
This ''postmodern'' book of short stories did not strike me as a whole as a great inventive work. The Babysitter, of course, is a wonderful story (I'd read it before in an anthology), and I liked The Magic Poker, with its evocative imagery of the lake and the multipli-prismatic points of view in the narrative. But much of the rest (including the Seven Exemplary Fictions) didn't do much for me. I loved Coover's The Public Burning - brilliant! I will continue to read Coover in the future.
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Robert Coover's F...: 1969 -- Pricksongs & Descants 3 17 Feb 10, 2014 06:23AM  
  • The Age of Wire and String
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  • Genoa: A Telling of Wonders
  • Tlooth
  • Take It or Leave It
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Born Robert Lowell Coover in Charles City, Iowa, Coover moved with his family early in his life to Herrin, Illinois, where his father was the managing editor for the Herrin Daily Journal. Emulating his father, Coover edited and wrote for various school newspapers under the nom-de-plume “Scoop.” He was also his high-school class president, a school band member, and an enthusiastic supporter of the ...more
More about Robert Coover...

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“Their wedding night was in all truth a thing of beauty: the splendor of the celebrations, the hushed intimacy of a private walk under the cryptic light of a large moon, the unexpected delight discovered in the reflection of a candle's flicker in a decanter of aged wine, finally the silent weeping in each other's arms through a night that seemed infinite in its innumerable dimensions.” 2 likes
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