November 18, 2005

Following Robert Coover’s “Suit”

by Nick Montfort · , 7:16 pm
Heart Suit title card

I’ve managed a certain ironic detachment from McSweeney’s for quite a while, but issue #16 (which includes a piece that Harry Mathews collaborated on and, in an unusual homage to Duchamp, an actual comb) has something in it that finally compelled me to deal out the asking price. This is a piece by Robert Coover, “Heart Suit.”

“Heart Suit” is printed on fifteen cards that are full of text on one side, and backed and cornered like playing cards. There is a “title” card, deuce through ace, and a joker. The instructions, which appear on the title card, read the “middle” thirteen in any order, and conclude with the joker. The tale, so shuffled, will be a story of tart theft in the court of hearts, will involve a bit of inquisition and investigation, will incude a great deal of queen-shtupping by a pack of paramours, and will conclude with a final – or perhaps not so final – meting out of punishment.

There are a few formal literary antecedents worth mentioning, ones that involve randomly re-orderable rectangles of text:

Cards from Heart Suit

Here are the dramatis personae:

As for the tale itself? It’s quite a play with the form of the pack. The effect of shuffling and reading on me was not to set certain sentences together by reading one card after another, but as much to loosen the ones that were set, making me wonder if things said of one character in the canonical text might equally well apply to others. And, I should mention, it’s quite a funny pack of texts, one to which I have already returned and will no doubt return again.

Other comments on Coover’s piece can be found at Writer Response Theory – I believe Mark tipped me off to the existence of “Heart Suit” there; thanks for that.

One Response to “Following Robert Coover’s “Suit””

  1. Tim Ramick Says:

    I wrote a structure a couple years ago, called Foursquare, after the playground game, in which the page is divided into quadrants and the reader can begin in any square and move to any other square on the page (or any on the next page). The last page wraps around to the first page (or one can backtrack through the pages). This, as well as other structured works (some more successfully attempted than others) can be found here in .pdf format:

    Not one of them, I confess, is quite as provocative as Coover’s.

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