The three Ws of Robert Coover: writing, wine and winning.
SFR phoned Robert Coover-fiction writer, wine aficionado, fan of the sport that most of the world calls football-in Providence, RI, on the eve of his Brown University festival,
Unspeakable Practices IV
, a three-day "circus" featuring 30-odd authors including John Ashbery, John Barth, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Straub.
SFR: Is it true what I've heard about a sequel-in-the-works to your first novel, the 1966 William Faulkner Award-winning The Origin of the Brunists?
I always had it in mind, even when I was writing other books: plotting what I wanted to do with it, but also the research files-I probably have three or four million words of backup at this point. It was sitting there with so much weight on it that if I didn't get to it…Did you ever read Bill Gaddis' last book,
? It's about an old guy with a box of clippings piling up. That's exactly what was happening. He was a great collector of clippings, and he knew that in there was a solution to the world's misery and so on. And with the current political and religious climate-a return to the alarming rise of fundamentalist thinking, both in this country and elsewhere; and the fearful consequence of that is to tee up a kind of apocalyptic experience-it seemed like something to get back to. It has worked its way through to 150,000 or 200,000 words at this point. I don't think I should say too much about what its actual events are, but it's pushing the idea of a religious ideology with its back to the wall and what it does to fight back and to get its message across and see it realized. That sort of fundamentalist tendency to take its belief to the limit-it carries the apocalyptic thematic in a more-or-less realistic setting. As I began it I had certain intentions, and of course the characters take over and lead you into scenes you weren't expecting to include. I've got a preacher with white-bread Jesus inside him who's intent on taking over.
Did you say "white-bread Jesus"?
It's an Easter-week experience he has. His wife leaves him, and he has nothing to eat, and he ends up with a loaf of bread. He wakes up with this voice inside him. I hadn't seen him before, and he ends up with this rich component. I'm desperate to get back to this for a while.
Any wine vintages to watch for this season-pricey Prince Charmings or Cinderella plonks?
One of the wine discoveries-I probably shouldn't say anything about this-but one of the great wine discoveries happened to be in Texas. You never know where you're going to have these astonishing encounters with quality stuff. We gathered at a little restaurant in Wayland Square [in downtown Providence, RI] tonight. It has a fairly good wine list. We had choices from $22 to $120. There was a $24 bottle of Chilean wine that uses a grape variety that died out during the phylloxera plague and then was thought not to exist for a while. Then it was discovered in Chile; it's a carmenère grape. This grape is unique to where it survived. People don't know what carmenère is. They know cabernet and merlot. The price was good. We had a go at it, and of course it was sensational. We had probably one of the half-dozen best wines on the menu. That's part of the pleasure of tasting and thinking and dreaming about wine.
Wine is one of those things similar to bestsellers and innovators. The innovative writers almost give their stuff away for free, whereas the bestsellers-you sort of keep doing it and hoping you do the same thing the second time around. You end up with writers who imitate themselves over the years and sometimes do it well, never taking risks. You have these guys whose wine was barreled in the streets
and is suddenly worth $1,000 whenever it's made-it just sort of has the label on it-this totally disproportionate relationship between price and quality, because they're only moderately better than wines that cost $6 a bottle. So the kind of play of wine buffs is tasting, sampling and looking for those little pleasures. That ability to develop the palate and enjoy the
quality of wines you've tasted and thought about while tasting them-this takes work like reading takes work. You're constantly on the lookout for the writer who's ignored. After all, it took a reader to find Melville, who had absolutely no reputation in his lifetime.
Will you be following any European football clubs in the year ahead?
Football is the antidote for the life of the writer. Unlike any other sport-I suppose hockey comes the closest-you have this idea of throwing yourself in time as a flow. There are no time-outs. You're in it until the game is over. You can guess outcomes. When you're a supporter of a team, you can see disaster blooming-and it's always disaster. Only one team wins every year, and everyone else suffers.
Robert Arellano is a former student of Robert Coover's who coordinates the English program at the Taos campus of the University of New Mexico.