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Robert Coover: Spanking the Maid

Yes, it is about spanking, a great post-modernist subject. In this delightful little book, Coover takes us into one of the most intimate of relationships, that between master and servant. It reminds me very much of Robbe-Grillet.
The master, apparently an aging bachelor, has a maid, whose job is not only to clean his apartment but also to wake him up in the morning. This she does by pulling back the sheets to reveal the erection he has as a result of his wet dreams (which play on classic Freudian puns, e.g. civil service/sybil service). But it is in cleaning his apartment that she seems to fail. It is not only his erection that is found beneath the sheets but also worms, a foetus, dead animals and other objectionable things, for which, of course, she has to be punished and the punishment is spanking. The old bachelor does not enjoy the spanking (or so he claims) but does it out of a sense of duty, to make the maid better at her job. Coover is, of course, taking the piss, though he does it with a straight face. Not erotic? Yeah, right. He knows many of his readers will get an erotic thrill out of it (even though pretending it is”serious” literature), as does his hero.

But Coover takes it little bit further. There is no outside world. It is thoroughly self-contained. The bachelor seems never to go out and, while the maid comes and goes, the bachelor does not know where from or to. And the spanking has become a ritual. Yes, there is variation in the type of spanking (not least for our erotic titillation) but the spanking itself has become inevitable and when the bachelor lets up, standards are sure to fall so, despite himself, he must go on. But perhaps it is he who is being spanked, spanked by his teacher on his quivering buttocks…

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Grove Press