Trapped in a mining accident that killed almost one hundred men, Giovanni Bruno survived when the men with him did not. But a series of portents and cryptic pronouncements suggests that the end of the world is at hand and a small sect of true believers (called Brunists by the local newspaper) gather to interpret the predictions and to prepare to be saved by the glory of God from the end times that will destroy the world.
Coover develops a narrative showing the antagonism between the Brunists and the regular church folks that consider the movement dangerous and crazy. In the middle of the events and conflicts is the newspaper editor who at first infiltrates the Brunists but is thrown out for spying on their activities and for not being a true believer. He does, however, begin to get national attention with his newspaper stories and editorials exposing the Brunist cult.
When the followers finally congregate on the hill over the closed coal mine, their numbers are increased by people who also want to believe and have traveled many miles to join the final celebration. But the local capitalists see the event as a good way to make money selling cotton candy and running a Bingo parlor in a tent on the hill. It starts to rain heavily: thunder and lightening. Will the Brunists find salvation and the world cease to exist?
Well, the novel hasn’t been written that follows through with Biblical predictions of the end of days (The Restaurant at the End of Time?) and this one is no different. But in the final chapters Coover brings his narrative into the tradition of religion and you can see the parallels in the origins of the Brunists with other faiths, like the early Christians. It has been announced that Coover, going full circle in his literary career, is about to publish a sequel to The Origin of the Brunists titled The Brunist Day of Wrath. It is reported to be a very large book and I, for one, can’t wait for it to be available (next month but I want the digital version).
Robert Coover is an important and influential American author. He is a tough read usually, decidedly postmodern and complex in both narrative and prose style. But his subjects are not all dark and brooding so I often find him a fun read, even if a bit challenging. Try one of the shorter works first but don’t stop .. keep reading. I see I have several Coover titles yet to read myself.
The Origin of the Brunists (1966)
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968)
The Public Burning (1977)
Gerald’s Party (1986)
A Night at the Movies or, You Must Remember This (1987) (themed anthology)
Pinocchio in Venice (1991)
John’s Wife (1996)
Ghost Town (1998)
The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director’s Cut (2002)
The Brunist Day of Wrath (October 15, 2013, forthcoming, Dzanc Books)
Short stories, Novellas, Plays & Collections
Pricksongs & Descants (1969) (collection)
The Babysitter (1969) (short story)
A Theological Position (1972) (plays)
A Political Fable (1980) (novella)
Originally published as a short story “The Cat in the Hat for President” in New American Review, 1968.
Spanking the Maid (1982) (novella)
In Bed One Night & Other Brief Encounters (1983) (collection)
Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears (1987) (novella)
Dr. Chen’s Amazing Adventure (1991) (novella)
Briar Rose (1996) (novella)
The Grand Hotels (of Joseph Cornell) (2002) (novella)
Stepmother (2004) (novella)
A Child Again (2005) (collection)
“The Case of the Severed Hand”. Harper’s Magazine 317 (1898): 74–80. July 2008.
“White-Bread Jesus”. Harper’s Magazine 317 (1903): 79–88. December 2008.
“An Encounter”. Fortnightly Review. October 2010.
“The Old Man”. Fortnightly Review. February 2011.
“Going for a beer”. The New Yorker. March 14, 2011.
“Matinée”. The New Yorker. July 25, 2011.
The End of Books (1992) (essay)