Tag Archives: Robert Coover

Pricksongs, Fiction, Reality, Sexism & Descants

People often use fiction to escape the depression and monotony of real life. In Pricksongs & Decants, Robert Coover uses the style of metafiction to present stories through many different storylines and outcomes. His stories are keenly aware that fiction itself is a central theme and at times nearly a character advancing the action. The omnipresence of fiction leads to a very interesting role for the narrator. The position of the narrator is best described by the narrator of “The Magic Poker,” “At times, I forget that this arrangement is my own invention.” It often feels as though Coover is not the writer of these stories, but a unique person who is dreaming up each individual tale. The narrators are creating fictional realities for themselves or their characters. They have tendencies to choose the ease and mystery of dreams over reality. One theme that is present throughout this whole dream-like book is the objectification of female characters, whom the narrators give much bleaker realities to than the male characters. Pricksongs & Descants creates narrators whom force fiction within the fictional reality already present, whom also usurp the importance of characters as the instigators of action and the story. The male perspective dominates these tales and lead to the narrators often objectifying women.
A very prevalent form of fictional reality that Coover uses is the multiple plotline narrative of “The Magic Poker” and “The Elevator.” Both stories are broken up into paragraph-long to page-long anecdotes that follow different plotlines. The narrators are the central figures of these tales, but they are not direct actors or authors. As L.L. Lee says, “… this is the dream(er)’s point of view…” (65) They differ in that “The Elevator” is almost exclusively driven by the narrator’s scenarios for Martin and the decisions he makes when riding namesake elevator. Whereas, the scenarios of “The Magic Poker” based on the situations of multiple characters that the narrator creates. Also, in “The Elevator” there is an element of continuity in that the narrator presents the reader with scenarios that have a constant location and background. In “The Magic Poker” though, the narrator openly admits that he is the one controlling the action and changes aspects as he goes along and at times retracts his statements. This discontinuous narration structure allows the narrators to experiment with their characters.
“The Elevator” presents a tale of a man named Martin and the multiple different scenes about his trip to the fourteenth floor of his office building every day. The narrator presenting all the different stories of Martin is just as vital as the main character, for he is the one exploring all the different possibilities of Martin’s elevator experiences. In fact, in scenario five the narrator says, “Martin, as always and without so much as reflecting upon it, takes the self-service elevator to the fourteenth floor, where he works.” (129) The narrator is more interested in these monotonous rides than Martin is. He is creating his own versions of reality within fiction. The link between the fictions and reality is Coover’s choice to cut each narration off before it is finished and then coming back to it later. Through the fictional concept, Coover is acknowledging how reality actually is. There are many different scenarios and outcomes that can be determined within a split second.
The narrator’s omnipresence allows him great control over the other characters and their interactions with Martin. One interaction stands out among all of them: that of Martin and the female elevator operator. One storyline that the narrator presents deals with the elevator cable snapping and Martin offering to protect her which leads to the two physically expressing their love for one another through sex (134). She is the victim of the male point of view that dominates Coover’s work. She is nothing to the Martin or the narrator other than an object for Martin to act out his urges. The first explanation of the two embracing begins with Martin staring at her and then leads to her running over to him without any agency of her own. Another description of the girl lacking any personal agency comes when the narrator says, “She weeps in terror, presses her hot wet mouth against his.” (133) How does she cope with fear? By kissing and having sex with the only man available. The narrator’s attempt to create a fictitious reality leads him to take a sexist perspective on gender roles.
Unlike the broken up narrative of “The Elevator,” “The Magic Poker” has different storylines that are quite similar, in that all start with the same beginning and all stories have the premise of the question of the background of the island on which the story is set. Also the narrator is written in first person and as a semi-active participant in the story. While he is not interacting with the other characters he is the creator of the island and the people. He, like the narrator of “The Elevator,” has created multiple different outcomes for the trip of two girls to the island, but these are not observations based on people that exist without him. These girls are his creations. He has truly escaped reality and accepted fiction as his form of life. He asserts himself a god-like character when he says, “… perhaps tomorrow I will invent Chicago and Jesus Christ and the history of the moon.” (40) Fiction is more empowering than reality. The narrator has all the power of this circumstance. He can change events if he wants, which he acknowledges when he says, “Wait a minute, this is getting out of hand! What happened to that poker, I was doing much better with the poker…” (30) The fiction that becomes a sort of forced reality is easier for a narrator, because there is a form of control not present in reality. This lack of control is alluded to in the fact that there are many different plotlines: none wrong, none right.
The male perspective is present in many of these plotlines as well. Almost every scenario begins with one of the girls encountering the titular poker. “She… kisses its handle and its long rusted shaft.” (25) Once she successfully kisses it, and the man in the blue jacket appears, it is as though all their dreams have come true. These women are important in that they have come to this mysterious island to spend time with a man that the narrator has created to seduce them. He creates girls who need nothing else; all they need is a man. While they are his creations, he treats them without agency. “I have dressed them and may well choose to undress them.” (25) They are used as entertainment to both the narrator and the man in the blue jacket. Karen amuses the man when she takes the poker and acts out different scenes (36). They are dolls to the narrator and entertainment to the man in the blue jacket.
“The Gingerbread House” takes a different approach to the concept of forced reality within fiction that Coover creates throughout his stories. The characters of this story are tempted by sexuality just as those of the other stories, but unlike the previous stories they are not sexualized for the sake of the narrator in this case. They are representatives of the concept of coming of age, and Coover implies that the ultimate form of coming of age is sexualization. In this case, the person making an attempt to avoid reality is the father of the two children. He cannot deal with the fact that his children are coming of age, and wants to avert them from doing so (Evenson, 61). Throughout the story he is continually described as worn down. He does not want what has happened to him to be the future of his children, so he tries to condition them away from sex. Such as, when the boy lunges for the witch and the father slaps him, partially out of jealousy and partially out of protection from lust (72). The father tries to create a type of world that cannot be; one in which children do not grow up.
The mixture of metafiction at the different levels of this story is unique. First, the reader is very familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel. So on the surface Coover is creating a literal fiction about a fiction, but he takes it one step further by challenging the reader to understand this fictitious version of a fairytale presented by the house with the red-heart door. Like the other stories, there is no concrete ending to the story. Instead, the narrator creates characters who are the” wanderers and explorers of unknown realities.” (Bacchilega, p25) “Yes, marvelous! delicious! insuperable! but beyond: what is that sound of black rags flipping?” The children make no definitive choice. They cannot accept the reality that is coming, that of adulthood.
Death is always a difficult event to accept and deal with. In Coover’s “The Marker,” Jason takes the concept of difficult recovery to an extreme. He chooses to completely recede from reality after the death of his wife, as he keeps his wife’s decaying body in their bed three weeks after her death. The narrator tells the story of how Jason has created an alternate reality by imagining a life where his wife is still alive. His fictional reality is much like that of the father in “The Gingerbread House,” in that it arises from denial. Unlike all the other stories though, his forced fictional reality is cut-off by the intrusion of the police officers. Despite the interruption, the story continues its hyperbolic trend with the police officer’s over exaggerated performance when beating Jason’s genitals to a pulp.
Some irony is derived from the title. The story starts with him putting his book marker in his book and ends with him being distraught over the police officer knocking it out. The bookmark can act as an explanation for where Jason’s life is. He has placed a marker in his fictional life and will not move on. His exclamation at the end, “The marker!” shows how the loss of the bookmark represents a break in his new reality.
One could argue that Coover’s presentation of female objectification is not an act of sexism, but a way for the narrator to express the dreams and urges of the characters he has created in these forced realities. To argue that is to say that women cannot be the characters in control. Even in “The Magic Poker” in which female characters are central, the narrator puts their actions in terms of male reactions and views. “‘But, tell me, how did you know to kiss it?’ ‘Call it woman’s intuition…’” (30) Despite using unique techniques in his writing and creating stories that intrigue with boundary pushing narratives, he has fallen down a hole. He is trapped in a hole of great writing that can only be respected to the point at which the reader is not distracted by this glaring literary discrimination.
Coover created unique stories through his use of narration as an actor rather than a tool for presentation. He took metafiction and transformed it to fit with his individual point of view. The narrator’s in Coover’s tales push the plots along within an already fictional tale with their ability to create forced realities for their characters. The narrator’s are not responsible for the entirety of the work though. Coover still wrote them, and in turn established the sexism that is present throughout the book. Despite this factor, Coover, and subsequently his narrators, told stories from a challenging point of view that forms a interesting relationship between reality and fiction within fictitious tales.
Bacchilega, Christina. “Folktales, Fictions, and Meta-Fictions: Their Interaction in Robert Coover’s Pricksongs & Descants.” New York Folklore 6.3-4 (1980): 171-184. Print.
Coover, Robert. Pricksongs & Descants. New York: E.P. Dutton &Co., Inc., 1969. Print.
Evenson, Brian. Understanding Robert Coover. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. Print.
Lee, L.L. “Robert Coover’s Moral Vision: Pricksongs & Descants.” Studies in Short Fiction 23.1 (1986): 63-69. Print.

Comparison of the Role of TV in The Babysitter and Drown

The reputation of television since its introduction to the American consumer in the 1940s has been far from stellar. Pejoratives such as “TV melts your brain” and “the boob tube” are indicative of the long-held view of TV being an anti-intellectual medium, especially in comparison to literature. TV makes an extensive appearance in Robert Coover’s The Babysitter and Junot Diaz’s Drown, but both authors do not condemn or show disdain for television. Rather, Robert Coover and Junot Diaz use TV in their stories to reflect on the way we think about things. In The Babysitter, the TV acts as a mirror to our everyday sexual and aggressive desires, while in Drown, TV demonstrates how we align our feelings onto what’s portrayed on the screen. By portraying TV as a medium of reflection, Coover and Diaz use TV to occasion major plot developments in both their stories. Through TV, Coover effectively allows anything and everything in the Babysitter to happen, while Diaz reveals the pain of loss and betrayal Yunior and his mother feel.

In The Babysitter, Coover uses the presence of the TV to remove the boundaries between reality and fantasy. This can be seen in the blending of the TV programs with the actions of the characters. The western on TV hints its presence during the tickling scene of the babysitter, where “on screen there’s a rattle of hooves, and he and Bitsy are rolling…in a crazy rodeo of long bucking legs” (213) and later more fully manifests itself when Jack imagines himself protecting the babysitter from Mark by slamming “a hard right to the guy’s gut, clips his chin with a rolling left” (212). Meanwhile, on TV the “dark beardy one” receives “a hard blow to the belly” and to “the face” from the “lean-jawed sheriff” (214). When the western fades into a spy show, the storyline: “the man…is following a woman, but she doesn’t know why. The woman passes another man, something seems to happen, but it’s not clear what” (221) likely intimates the sexual tension Mark and Jack feel towards the babysitter, but whether this results in violence (225) or something more consensual (222) is unclear. Indeed, throughout the story we have this idea of something happening, but we’re not sure exactly what happens. The events in The Babysitter couldn’t all have occurred due to logistical problems. For example, Coover provides two drastically different endings: 1) the babysitter wakes up and Mrs. Tucker is pleasantly surprised that the dishes are done and 2) the babysitter and Mrs. Tucker’s children are dead. We know both chain of events couldn’t have happened, but we are not told which one is the correct version. Ultimately, however, the distinction between reality and fantasy is unimportant because there is none. One storyline is not meant to be reality and the others a myriad of unrealities—we are meant to believe they all could have occurred. TV is important in this lack of distinction, for not only do the events in the TV bleed into the events in the story, the nature of TV itself is a fusion of reality and fantasy. In TV lies the difficulty of distinguishing the fictional from the documentary. For Coover, then, TV serves as a reflection—it holds a mirror up to reality, which is pervaded by fantasy to such an extent that the two can be considered integral and inseparable.

TV also blends into the style and structure of The Babysitter. The vignette-like events mimic TV’s form, while the discontinuous collage of narration resembles the collage created by channel switching. From the exclamation of “the dishes are all done!” to the final reply of “let’s see what’s on the late late movie” (239), there is no real closure—the end is akin to pressing the power button on the remote control. The possibility that the entire story takes place on television allows us to explore yet another level of how we view fantasy and its relation to reality. The common adage is that watching TV gives us ideas, and bad ideas at that. But Coover would argue that TV is actually a reflection of our own sexual and aggressive tendencies. If there’s sex and violence in TV, it’s because there is sex and violence in our minds. After all, TV programs aren’t ordained by the supernatural—they are written by humans, and surely reflect what is in our thoughts.

As the manifestation of television became more and more pervading, TV garnered a reputation of being not a medium of information and entertainment, but of manipulation and superficiality. While both Coover and Diaz do not view the TV in a negative light, the cultural presence of TV has changed over the years, and that evolution is clearly present in how the two authors incorporate television in their writings. Coover focuses so much on the TV because in his time, the TV was still considered a newfangled invader. As popular as the TV was in the 1960s, it was still easy to remember a time without the box in the living room. For Coover, there was a huge difference in how life was before TV and how life was after TV. By the time Junot Diaz wrote Drown in the 1990s, TV had become so commonplace that people no longer considered it to be a cultural phenomenon, but an indispensable part of everyday life. While TV dominates the storyline of The Babysitter, TV takes a much more background role in Drown as a culturally embraced setting for social interaction. “Families arranged on their porches, the glow from their TVs washing blue against brick” (1666). We see Yunior watching TV with his mom, after she told him Beto was home. “I put down a towel down on the sofa and we watch television together” (1668). Yunior then recounts how he and Beto watched a porno together at Beto’s apartment, which led to Beto touching him. “I kept my eyes on the television, too scared to watch” (1672). Coincidentally (or not), the TV was on both times when he and Beto were engaged in sexual acts. “We sat in front of his television, in our towels, his hands bracing against my abdomen and thighs…I had my eyes closed and the television was on” (1672-73). And finally, the TV once again unites Yunior with his mother as they watch what seems to be a dubbed version of Bonnie and Clyde. In all these scenes, the TV serves as a background medium for deeper companionship among the characters.

These moments of companionship are important in the overarching plot of Drown because Diaz uses TV to reveal the true feelings of the characters, who often hide behind a mask of coolness. Prime examples are when Yunior watches TV with his mom. “We settle on the Spanish-language news: drama for her, violence for me” (1668). His mother wants to see drama to match her yearning for her husband who has left her, despite knowing the relationship could bring her nothing but pain. Similarly, Yunior desires violence because allows him to displace some of the anger and resentment he harbors towards his former best friend Beto, as well as perhaps himself. “I was angry at him, wasn’t I?” (1668).While Beto is the college boy, the assimilated individual who has shed the heteronormative masculinity, Yunior is stuck hovering between action and inaction. Much of his narrative is composed of references to the present, in relation to the past: “Little has changed” at the pool (1667). “The circuit I make has not changed since my looting days. Bookstore, record store, comic-book shop, Macy’s. Me and Beto used to steal like mad from these places” (1669). For Yunior, his mother represents stagnation, while Beto represents mobility. Though he hates the image of his mother, unable to stop calling his pathetic father (1669-70), he cannot bring himself to leave his New Jersey hometown like Beto, who encourages him to do so. “You need to learn how to walk the world, he told me. There’s a lot out there” (1671). TV offers an avenue for action that Yunior cannot yet do in real life.

Watching Bonnie and Clyde is another attempt at solace for the pain of betrayal for Yunior and his mother. The scenes on the TV lure Yunior and his mother with memories of the true feeling that had existed between the two couples before betrayal separated them. The hail of bullets that are going to tear Bonnie and Clyde apart become a metaphor for the actions that separated Yunior from Beto and his mother from his father. For Yunior, his hail of bullets was when Beto touched him, and the fact that he let Beto touch him. For Yunior’s mother, it was when her husband left her for another woman. Just before Bonnie and Clyde are destroyed in the movie, his mother takes off her glasses. Though this is an act of weariness, it is also a symbolic gesture of not wanting to accept Bonnie and Clyde’s fate, because she is still not ready to let her husband go. Yunior knows that his mother is dreaming “of strolling with my father” (1673) because he too, is dreaming. By subconsciously pairing his mother’s fantasy with his own memories, Yunior indirectly reveals he misses his friendship with Beto. Watching TV allows Yunior to reflect upon these thoughts which he normally wouldn’t allow himself to do. The TV offers “background noise” for Yunior—the same way the TV was on both times when he and Beto were together, it is only when he is watching TV that he allows his mother to yearn freely for his father, and himself for Beto.

Both authors portray television as a medium of reflection. Coover breaks down the barrier between the external world and the internal space of the mind, showing how the programs on TV mirror our own tendencies, while Diaz conveys how we apply what’s on the screen to our own feelings. By using TV extensively in their stories, Robert Coover and Junot Diaz demonstrate the various ways we think about reality, our fantasies, and our emotions.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: Norton, 2013. Print.

A Comparison Between Coover’s The Babysitter and Faulkner’s Was

“The babysitter sighs, lifts the girl out of the tub and onto the toilet, getting her skirt and blouse all wet in the process…Before she knows it the girl is off the seat and out of the bathroom. ‘Bitsy! Come back here!’…”

(next stanza)“Okay, that’s enough!” Her skirt is ripped and she’s flushed and crying. “Who says?” “I do, man”.

“Uncle Buck flung his arm out and back, reigning in, crouched on the big horse, his little round head and his gnarled neck thrust forward like a cooter’s. You stay back where he wont see you and flush. I’ll circle him through the woods and we will bay him at the creek ford.” He waited until Uncle Buck vanished into the woods. Then he went on. But Tomey’s Turl saw him. He closed in too fast; maybe he was afraid he wouldn’t be there in time to see him when he treed. It was the best race he had ever seen.

 

Ambiguity in the subject being referred is a fundamental characteristic of both Robert Coover’s The Babysitter and William Faulkner’s Was, and thus serves in creating ties of similarity between the two works. In both these works there is a large amount of confusion regarding who or what is being referred to due to the continuous switching of characters without utilization of clearly defining who or what that pronoun is referring to. The confusion in Faulkner’s work stems much from the continuous, rapid-fire use of “he” to refer to different characters in the stream of consciousness-based story. This use of the same “he” pronoun to refer to various different characters in very close succession serves to create ambiguity in terms of who the “he” being referred to is. There is confusion as to whether the different “he’[s]” are referring to Uncle Buck, Uncle Buddy, Tomey’s Turl, or Ike. This same confusion is created in The Babysitter through the illustration of parallel stories between different stanzas such as the one in the passage above. In the first stanza, the passage centers around Bitsy, the little girl. Bitsy is being difficult about taking her bath and demands that she get out of the bath, thus “getting her skirt and blouse all wet”. The babysitter gets frustrated and yells “Bitsy! Come back here!” The next stanza begins immediately with “‘Okay, that’s enough!’ Her skirt is ripped and she’s flushed and crying”. The reader assumes the “her” here is Bitsy, as she was the last character discussed, until reading further to find that the “her” here is the babysitter and situation being talked about is a completely different one from the previous. This is a perfect example of how in The Babysitter, there is rarely straightforward clarity regarding who is being referred to, which is much invoked by the use of ambiguous pronouns from stanza to stanza. The reader is left much to their own devices and must decipher on their own what is happening to whom.

Further, the confusion and ambiguity makes the reader question what the reality of the situation is. Is Uncle Buddy the one following Uncle Buck’s instructions here? Or is it Ike? Is Bitsy the one with “her skirt ripped”, “flushed” and “crying”, or is it the babysitter? The questioning of reality that comes about through the confusion created in the ambiguity is a central characteristic of both works.

Comparison between Ginsberg and Coover

“angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night” (Ginsberg p. 1356)

“From the other rooms come the sounds of a baby screaming, water running, a television musical (no words: probably a dance number—patterns of gliding figures come to mind)”  (Coover p. 206)

In these two stories, the beginnings are very important because not only are they the foreground for the variations to come, but they are also the last time the stories will be as clear as they are. Throughout Howl, we are given various and changing descriptions of the specific group of people talked about at the beginning. A description like “who got busted in their public beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York” (p. 1357) and “who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas as dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom” (p. 1359) seemingly have nothing or little in common. However, remembering that all of this relates to the group of people talked about at the beginning gives this story the only sort of structure one can hold on to while reading.

Likewise, in The Babysitter, we are presented with a variety of scenarios all of which relate back to the first section that tells that the babysitter has arrived. For instance, there are some scenarios that have Mr. Tucker coming back to find everyone having sex in the living room, while there are other scenarios where he walks in and nothing is happening. Each scenario is its own section, just as each new description in Howl is a new section, which makes the reader question the togetherness and order of the stories as a whole; which adds a sort of metaphysics like aspect both stories.

Introduction to Robert Coover

coover

Robert Coover was born on February 4th , 1932 in Charles City, Iowa.  It seems he inherited a knack for writing from his father who worked as the managing editor of the Herrin Daily Journal when his family moved to Herrin, Illinois.  Some of his hobbies as a child included writing poems and stories, playing parlor baseball games, and watching the Cincinnati Reds train.  He had dreams of traveling when he was young, which became reality when he joined the navy as a result of being drafted after graduating college.  He spent three years in Europe where he met his future wife, who was studying at the University of Barcelona.

Over the years, before he decided to move permanently to America, he would spend his time in both the United States and Spain.  While in the United States he worked mostly in teaching positions when he needed to make money.  The rest of his time was spent in Spain with his wife and their family.  He did most of his work on his first novel, The Origin of Brunists, while in Spain though it wasn’t published until he returned to the United States.

He is a postmodern writer known for his experimentation.  He is recognized for his originality and versatility in prose fiction.  He aims to defy expectations and criticize systems ingrained in our culture such as religion, politics, science, mathematics, and myths.  He began his career by publishing some short stories in the Evergreen Review in the 1960s.  His first novel, The Origin of the Brunists,  brought his name into the spotlight.  However, the book that truly made him famous  was The Public Burning published in 1977.  It followed the Rosenberg trial from the perspective of Richard Nixon.  Coover’s work continuously pushes the boundary of what is considered a narrative.  This often leads to criticism but more importantly leads to innovation.

Comparison of Stevens and Coover

“A man and a woman 

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird 

Are one.” (Stevens 10)

 

“That sweet odor that girls have.  The softness of her blouse.  He catches a glimpse of the gentle shadows amid her things, as she curls her legs up under her.  He stares hard at her.” (Coover 207)

Both of these texts deal with  extreme objectification, specifically the young girl in “The Babysitter” and the blackbird in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” from a variety of different viewpoints.  Both use the many-perspective narrative technique to fully explore the profundity of their subjects; however, Stevens uses his to sway the reader towards a calming sense of interconnectedness with nature while Coover employs the narrative style to overwhelm the reader with fewer, more extreme view-points to highlight the discordant tendencies of the traditional societal roles of women.

Stevens uses thirteen different stanzas, varying in tone and composition to reveal the nature of human misperceptions.  He uses the blackbird as the central object of the poem to call attention to and glorify the commonly overlooked blackbird.  With each stanza, he offers a different vignette which proposes a new way of examining the blackbird.  These many view points offer contradictory messages of tranquility and violence and nothingness and significance and result in a whirlwind of observations that culminate in the blurring of time and order,  which can be seen through claims in the final stanza such as “it was evening all afternoon” and “it was going to snow” (Stevens 50).   Coover uses a similar technique in the narrative of “The Babysitter”.  The chronology of the story is disjointed into short stanza-like paragraphs which vary in tone depending on the speaker.

Stevens uses the many dimensions of his narrative to depict an incalculable vastness of the physical world through heavily examining facets of the blackbird.  In doing so, he tackles the concept of sexuality with the above quote, acknowledging its immense influence over society.  Coover uses the multiple viewpoint method to demonstrate the ways in which the young girl is sexually objectified by societal roles for women.  Nameless, she is without a clear identity, defined instead by those around her as they focus and fantasize the different aspects of her sexuality.  To Mr Tucker, she is a fetishized reincarnation of his and his wife’s lost youth, to Jack and Mark she is the physical satiation of their most innate desires, and to Jimmy and Bitsy, she is an interim mother.  Each of these representations are shown through differing narrative styles; however, she is without a voice of her own and is thus torn apart by the tsunami of fantasy roles she as a malleable youth is expected to fulfill.

Comparison of Hemingway and Coover

“And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud…like the first snow in a blizzard” (Hemingway, 1036)

“Your children are murdered, your husband gone, a corpse in your bathtub, and your house is wrecked” (Coover, 239)

The stories in “The Babysitter” couldn’t all have happened due to logistical problems some events pose. For example, on page 218 Jimmy goes to the bathroom and soaps the babysitter’s back, but later it is Mr. Tucker who soaps her back and is interrupted by Jimmy saying “I have to go to the bathroom” (225). Similarly, when Mr. Tucker goes back to the house to supposedly get aspirin, in one case he and the babysitter immediately embrace (218), but in another scenario it goes awkwardly wrong. “If you want to check on the kids, why don’t you just call on the phone?” (224). In the last act on page 239-40, Coover provides two drastically different endings. In one, the babysitter wakes up and Mrs. Tucker is pleasantly surprised that the dishes are done. In the other, the babysitter and Mrs. Tucker’s children are dead. Instinctively, we know both chain of events couldn’t have happened. However, we are not told which one is the correct version and moreover, it’s not important. One storyline is not meant to be reality and the others a myriad of unrealities. Rather, there is no distinguishing between reality and fantasy. By having the narratives broken up and dispersed around each other, we are meant to think that they all could have happened; that reality and fantasy are integral and inseparable.

The idea of reality and fantasy being indistinguishable is in Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” to a lesser degree. We know Harry never physically wrote about his adventures and observations, yet internally we feel as if he has partly written them through the monologues in his head. Everything that happens in the present is in normal font, whereas Harry’s brooding about the past occurs in italics. We know his plane ride didn’t really happen, as Harry dies beforehand and inconsistencies such as the plane not needing to be refueled hint that these events did not occur in the physical world. However, this part of the narrative is not in italics, thus we are led to believe that in some way or form, whether it was a hallucination or spiritual redemption, Harry did see Kilimanjaro.

Both authors tackle relations between the external world and the internal space of the mind. For Hemingway, the line between reality and imagination is one to be delicately crossed, whereas for Coover, the line doesn’t exist at all.