(I bought this a few weeks ago)
Originally published in a slightly different form over a decade earlier, during the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace 1968 Presidential campaign, in the journal New American Review, under the title "The Cat in the Hat for President," A Political Fable amazingly is still a very fitting novella for us in 2012.
I was all of two during the bulk of that particular Presidential campaign so I can't verify just how much of what Coover has written has come from his watching of campaigns versus his predicting where we were headed, though I am pretty sure there were no fictional candidates in the '68 campaign as The Cat in the Hat that is running is indeed the one from the Dr. Seuss book. What he does give us in this short book is plenty of pretty standard political speak that might even be more appropriate today than it was fourty-four years ago as both major parties nowadays strive so hard to make their candidates appear more centrist than their actual idealogies fall on the map.
The narrator is Soothsayer Brown, the National Chairman of his Party (not defined throughout) who is working his backroom magic to get one of two men slotted in at The Convention so that they will be set up for a good run...four years later. He is positive that the current election is a loss and so is playing the political game of finding a candidate to get their shot, the one they've earned through years of political favors for other candidates, if only to get them their shot knowing they have not a chance in hell of winning. For they are going up against the incumbent, the Opponent:
Born in a small Midwestern town of middle-class parents, reared and educated in the Southwest, known to have considerable holdings and influence in the Eastern establishment, a poker buddy of several Southern Senators, progressive and city-oriented yet bluntly individualistic adn rural in manner, rugged, shrewd, folksy, taciturn yet gregarious, a member of everything from SANE and the NAACP to the American Legion, Southern Baptists, and the National Association of Manufacturers, a chameleon personality who could project the faces of Chairman of the Board, Sheriff, Sunday Duffer, Private Eye, Young Man on the Go, Cracker-barrel Philosopher, Lion-tamer, Dad, Quarterback, Country Gentleman, City Lawyer, Good Sport, Field General, Swinger, and the Guy Next Door, all in one three-minute TV sequence, the Opponent was, in short, a natural.
I know paragraphs like this are somewhat common these days, long lists, but I would have to guess that at the time, such a burst of energy across the page was somewhat uncommon. The energy never stops through this novella. A portion of the impetus for that is The Cat in the Hat, as Coover uses him just as Dr. Seuss had--he's unpredictable, a little mean-spirited, and non-stop activity once he enters a room or a scene.
Where I believe Coover was very prescient in his thoughts on where we were heading with our political system is in how he allows The Cat in the Hat to come in and take over the party through populism and with the help of the media, but also in his pointing out that while we may be swayed by shiny, exciting candidates, in the end the status quo comes back to us.
There are wonderful scenes of members of The Party wearing coonskin caps (a candidate's name was Boone) and the Cat turning them all into real raccoons that end up rutting like mad on national television; the Cat balancing many items on his head with a fish bowl at the very top, crashing and somehow spinning that into a huge wave of water running through the Convention and everybody being swallowed by the fish, now a whale; and near the end an amazing scene (a bit reminiscent of the end of Coover's The Origin of the Brunists) wherein the Cat is skinned alive while held in an upside-down Christ-like position that results in the crowd stripping their clothing to start a bonfire with and an All-American orgy like you've never heard of (though, and maybe especially considering the source, is pretty tamely written) and the eventual eating of the Cat's body, an experience well beyond any drug experience ever undertaken--the paragraph that Coover gives us here is even wilder than that up above:
For one thing, like the Cat himself, the vision was all red, white and blue, shot throughwith stars, bars, adn silver bullets. The whole hoopla of American history stormed through our exploded minds, all the massacres, motherings, couplings, and connivings, all the baseball games, PTA meetings, bloodbaths, old movies, and piracies. We lived through gold-digging, witch-burning, lumberjacking, tax-collecting, and barn-raising. Presidents and prophets fought for rostrums by the dozens. We saw everything, from George Washington reading the graffiti while straining over a constipated shit in Middlebrook, New Jersey, to Teddy Roosevelt whaling his kids, from Johnson and Kennedy shooting it out on a dry dustry street in a deserted cowtown to Ben Franklin getting struck by lightning while jacking off on a rooftop in Paris. It was all there, I can't begin to tell it, all the flag-waving, rip-staving, truck-driving, gun-toting, ram-squaddled, ringtail-roaring, bronc-breaking, A-bombing, drag-racing, Christ-kissing, bootlegging, coffee-drinking, pig-fucking tale of it all. And through it all, I kept catching glimpses of the Cat in the Hat, gunning Japs out of the sky over Hollywood, humping B'rer Rabbit's tar-baby, giving Custer what-for at Little Big Horn, pulling aces out of his sleeves in New Orleans; now he was in a peruke signing the Declaration of Independence witha ballpoint pen, then in a sou-wester going down with the Maine, next leaping with a smirk and a daisy in his teeth out of the President's box onto the stage of Ford's Theater, inventing the cotton gin, stoking Casey Jones' fires, lopping off heads at Barnegat with Captain Kidd, boo-hooing with Sam Tilden and teeing off with Bing Crosby.
Again, between these bursts of energy and crazyiness, Coover's commentary on our lives and system just seem dead-on. I believe he took some time away from his writing of the very long The Public Burning to write this and it might have been a need to a) find something shorter and more specific to focus on, but also that his writing of the Rosenbergs and his usage of Nixon in that novel may have had him looking for a more comedic means of expressing his thoughts on the politics of the country. The book is not currently in print, but not all that hard to find at a reasonable cost--it's well worth your time to do so.