Open House


“A writer who has managed, willfully and even perversely, to remain his own man while offering his generous vision and versions of America.” —The Rea Award for the Short Story

“Relentless experimentalism, combined with a sly and often bawdy humour. . . [Coover is a] writer's writer, a hero to those who feel smothered by the marshmallowy welter of pseudo-literary romance that dominates contemporary fiction.” —The Guardian

“One of the most original and exciting writers around.” —Edwidge Danticat

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About the Book

One hundred floors above Manhattan, a diverse group of guests and gate-crashers come together in a luxurious penthouse. The down-and-out blend seamlessly with the well-to-do. Scammers find themselves the target of a con so twisted that by the time they begin to figure it out it’s too late to extract themselves. But what’s the occasion? Is it a party? A religious congregation? A real estate listing? Or is there something else going on?

For over half a century, Robert Coover has been one of the most inventive and unpredictable writers in the American academy. Long heralded for his commitment to formal as well as technological innovation, with Open House, Coover reminds readers that his work is as steeped in literary history as it is forward-thinking experimentation. This tension—between old and new, between a romanticized past and a future we only pretend we can predict—animates Coover’s latest metafiction, where narrative is at once the point and so beside the point that it calls into question all the myths by which we organize our lives.

From Evergreen Review Books, an imprint of OR Books

152 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-389-1 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-390-7


About the Author

Robert Coover author photo

Photo © Geraint Lewis
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Robert Coover is the author of twenty-some books of fiction and plays, including The Cat in the Hat for President and The Enchanted Prince. He has been nominated for the National Book Award and awarded numerous prizes and fellowships, including the William Faulkner Award, the Rea Lifetime Achievement Award for the Short Story, and a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship. His plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and elsewhere. From 1981 to 2012, he taught creative writing at Brown University, where he is T.B. Stowell Professor Emeritus in Literary Arts.

Read an Excerpt

“This party reminds me of the old high school bio-lab experiments,” rumbles a bald skinny man with a jutting bewhiskered chin, squinting through cracked bifocals. I have no idea what he means. We must have attended different high schools. When a husky young woman in bluejeans adds, “Right, with booze as the chemical trail,” I’m utterly lost. I know what booze is, but science was always my worst subject. I never knew what to say when called on by the teacher. Once, in a shameful moment, I even soiled my panties in the chemistry lab out of sheer terror with the teacher staring straight at me. Mortification was what science was mostly about for me.

Two boys wearing wide-brimmed cowboy hats chase a squealing girl through the crowd, in one door and out another. Some kind of party game probably, they are all three laughing crazily, the boys barking like dogs, the girl screaming something in a foreign language like something has gotten into her panties. There was a day when I might have joined in the fun, but now even thinking about running gives me palpitations. It’s all about that, isn’t it? Knowing your limits. Then doing what you can with what you’ve been given. I often say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing, but one thing I’ve been given is that, underneath it all, I am a nice person and I like other people who are also nice.

The crowd’s on the move again and I move along with them into the next room, having little choice. When I was in this room a little while ago, I saw a gentleman who seemed to be the host of this party, a nice man who was patient with fat dummies like me, though I understand he may have sold his apartment tonight to someone who is not so nice. I’m not sure how I understand that, but the how’s not important, only the understanding is, and maybe that’s not important either. The nice man was graciously asking everybody how they learned about the party, but I had forgotten, if I ever knew, so I told him instead that I simply adored the fantastic musicians. He winced like he was suffering sudden gas pains and pushed away to the next room. Oh dear. All I want really, having tiny little hopes but no expectations, is the opportunity to meet nice people, and, even if this wonderful apartment is no longer his, I would be happy to be of service to him in any way he wants.

The not-so-nice man with the nose ring who is said to be the new owner comes over now with two rough-looking fellows and slaps my behind, rather too hard, shouting at me that I have a grand patootie. I don’t know what a patootie is, but I can guess. “Are you a nice person?” I ask him. He makes a sour face and moves on, his friends following, toward a little cluster of young girls with smaller patooties. “Don’t go away, I love to be spanked,” I call after him, even though there’s nothing I like less; I’m only sorry if I hurt his feelings. But he’s gone, without looking back, and his friends, too. I’m so clumsy, and now it’s say la vee all over again. The young girls are tittering (laughing at me?) with their hands over their mouths as though afraid they might have bad breath.

When the young nun who rode up with me on the elevator comes past, I curtsey, hoping it’s all right to do that. It seems to be. She smiles warmly at me, which is the nicest response I’ve had all night, and I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier in her religion than whatever I’m in now. She doesn’t smell as nice as she looks, though it’s an honest human smell. And perhaps she’s not as young as I first thought, but even her wrinkles are beautiful.

“When that nun passed by,” a silver-haired gentleman, his voice quavery and his eyes rolled back, declares, “I felt close to the Lord!”

“Oh yes,” I say, leaning in. “Me too!”

“Maybe, but not so close as me,” says one of those boys in cowboy hats who were just running through here. “She squeezed my dick when she blowed by, and look what she done to it!” I gasp and lean away. “I been goddamn blessed, man!” My pal’s dong is hanging outside his pants, puffed up big as a fencepost and oozing at the tip—and it’s green! Even his meatballs are green! Paintbox green! “Holy shit, man! The nun did that—?”

“Yeah, and I’m so fuckin’ fried, all I could do was laugh!”

“It is pretty funny,” I say, feeling uneasy about the dude’s monster green boner and this big-bucks mass-up he’s dragged me to. “Sort of goes with your hot orange tee.” This is not my scene at all. Sex-mad nuns, yes; nuns with green thumbs, no. And it doesn’t feel generally all that healthy up here. Fucking axe up there somewhere, ready to fall. I’d drop a blast to the followers, warning them about what’s going down here, but my frigging phone’s not working. Bad vibes in the high-altitude air maybe.

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