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New Yorker Fiction Review #172: "The Hanging of the Schoolmarm" by Robert Coover



Review of a short story from the Nov. 28, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Getting closer to being caught up here, and tiny-little stories like this one help a lot so...thanks Robert Coover!

Anyhoo...bizarre little story from master fabulist and meta-fictionalist Robert Coover, but what Robert Coover story isn't bizarre, I ask you? Along with Steven Millhauser, Robert Coover has got to be one of my favorite writers in The New Yorker's fiction writing stable. I place his writing in the same sort of ballpark as Kurt Vonnegut (yeah, yeah I can just hear the gasps from the Vonnegut devotees) in that while you're reading it you are constantly entertained, even if you frequently have to ask yourself: "What the hell am I reading about?"

For example, "The Hanging of the Schoolmarm," in which a group of cowboys gets fed up of playing cards with a proselytizing, over officious schoolmarm -- who is also handy with a pistol -- and decide to have her hanged. Only in Cooversville, folks.

The story's real humor lies in the fact that, although the cowboy's get fed up with the schoolmarm's heavy-handed discipline and strictness, they do actual learn a lot from her about language, as when the sheriff quips that he "prefers order to ordure, though they are more or less the same thing, only because 'order' is easier to spell and don't sound so foreign." Applied learning at its finest, even if the cowboys chafe at the way it's delivered to them.

 But Coover is no dumb-dumb, mind you. This story is doubtless part of a much grander statement on our national distaste for intellectualism (or so I'm guessing, and it doesn't take a genius to come up with this theory), even as we take benefits from it.

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