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Robert Coover: Pinocchio in Venice

More post-modern fun from Coover. One of the thing that post-modernists like to do is to take a well-known myth or story and turn it upside down (cf. Donald Barthelme). Coover has a real go at Pinocchio here. Pinocchio is now an old man (Professor Pinenut), a retired American professor, coming back home to Italy, specifically to Venice. He is carrying with him the text (also on diskette) of his great work – Mamma, about the Blue-Haired Fairy. However, once landed in Italy, the characters from the story pop out to either torment him or help as in the real book. The characters, of course, have changed somewhat. They are older and more decrepit. Some have fallen on hard times. The Fox and the Cat, however, are alive and well, however, and mug Pinocchio almost immediately after he arrives.

Just as in the Collodi book, Pinocchio has his ups and downs, with more downs than ups. But Coover is going to have his fun. He has lots of linguistic fun, playing on words, particularly as related to wood and, of course, lots of vulgarities (we all knew that Pinocchio’s ever-growing nose was a phallic symbol but with girls rubbing it and sucking it and Pinocchio even putting a condom on it, it becomes a lot more apparent in this novel). He is also out to play post-modernist philosophical games, about what is real and what is not. This is not just the dichotomy between humans of flesh and blood and wooden puppets (though, of course, he makes great play of this idea) but also between animals and humans. There are several anthropomorphic animals in Pinocchio, including Lampwick the donkey (God could have chosen to embody himself in a donkey as well as in a man, and who is to say that he did not? – who indeed? Certainly not Coover.), and Coover gives them their say. But this is post-modernism so the story ends happily with the Blue-Haired Fairy (his mother! – Oedipus is another myth the post-modernists love) playing with… with his nose.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Simon & Schuster