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Robert Coover: Ghost Town

The Western is an obvious target for Coover’s brand of post-modernism deconstruction and Coover certainly milks every cliché he can in this novel. An unnamed rider, almost certainly called the Kid, rides out of the desert country (Coover lays it on thickly from the beginning with buzzards, sagebush, dead animals – the whole works). He encounters a band of unsavoury characters and casually shoots one à la Clint Eastwood, even though his victim is blind and one-armed. He then rides on till a ghost town appears. It seems deserted till he suddenly find the saloon is full of all the unsavoury characters from all the Westerns you have ever seen. It goes on from there. He goes from being the lone Clint Eastwood type to sheriff to accused horse thief to sheriff to outlaw and so on. He has to choose between the clean-living, beautiful but cold teacher (whom, of course, he rescues from the railroad just before the train comes) and the feisty, sexy bar girl. Assorted bad guys and Western denizens pop in and out the whole time, including a smart horse, and the image of the gallows hovers around the whole time. Of course, as this is post-modernism, this is not tribute but a subversion of the genre. Most of the characters are lewd, crude and rude and certainly do not behave like ladies and gentlemen nor like Louis Lamour Western characters. Coover is also out to subvert the plot as he shoves all the Western plots into the novel he can think of – Indians, bad guys v good guys, poor threatened women, gunfights, knife fights, sheriff on his own against the rest, the stage coach robbery, the mine and so on. The Western will never live it down.

Publishing history

First published 1998 by Henry Holt