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Robert Coover: The Public Burning

For its brilliant attack on Richard Nixon, who was very much alive when this book was first published, this book would deserve to be considered one of the finest American novels of this century. But this book is much more. On the history side, it features the Rosenberg trial, the FBI and its head, J Edgar Hoover and many other aspects of 1950s USA. Coover mercilessly savages the whole US military-industrial complex. The score in the middle of the decade is 1,625,000,000 people for Uncle Sam, only 180,000,000 for the Phantom, and most of them in declining health… And yet, suddenly, by the end of the decade, the Phantom has a core of 800,000,000 to Uncle Sam’s 540,000 and the rest-about 600,000,000 so-called neutrals-are adrift. What went wrong? There are Reds all over the place. Billy Graham calls for exposing the pinks, the lavenders and the reds who have sought refuge beneath the wings of the American eagle. Roy Cohn is purging US libraries of subversive literature like Howard Fast, Dashiell Hammett, Theodore White and Mrs. Clifton Fadiman. And J. Edgar is on the case.

The novel is a frenzied, brilliant, wonderful satire of the American Way of Life as seen by Cohn, Graham, Nixon, Eisenhower, Hoover, McCarthy and co., featuring Uncle Sam (a major character in the book) and the Rosenbergs, as the American public get ready for the Show of the Century, the execution of the Rosenbergs. Betty Crocker, the Marx Brother, the Democrats’ mascot donkey with a hard-on the size of Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat, Cecil B. de Mille, senators, judges, movie stars – they are all there. But poor old Tricky Dick, he gets fucked by Uncle Sam. If you were one of the morons who voted for Ronald Reagan and/or George W Bush, this one’s for you. The rest of you, read this book.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Viking Press