Going for a Beer compresses a man’s story of beers and adulteries into a single paragraph of about a thousand words. It seems like an easy feat to perform, to put in bullet after bullet of a man’s major life events. But this would make up for a boring story. Here, many details from the unnamed man’s life are omitted. The reader is left with no choice but to trust the author and to go with the cunningly constructed flow of time, memory, and anticipation.
The astounding thing about this story is how the present is mangled by the future, which in effect turns this present into the past. What is supposed to happen has already happened. Take the first sentence:
He finds himself sitting in the neighborhood bar drinking a beer at about the same time that he began to think about going there for one.
In fact, he has finished it. Perhaps he’ll have a second one, he thinks, as he downs it and asks for a third.
These cycles of the future backpedaling on the present haul one another until the end. The technique baffles and amazes me, even as I am recalling the story in my head. There seems to be a machinery underneath the words that seems to morph the sense time as the narration moves forward.
It feels like it’s trying to say that life is irrevocably designed to follow point A to point Z in a single route, but I think that is beside the point. How we ever get to point Z when we were just at point A a while ago is perhaps the point of it all. Points B to Y are all left in a blur, and it makes sense to contain a life in a short manner.
This is my first Robert Coover, one who is touted as a writer’s writer. I looked up his backlist and I was surprised to see his very low readership. This I already anticipated but I still felt surprised anyway. Listening to this story makes me want to correct that.
Listen to Joshua Ferris reading this story at The New Yorker Fiction Podcast.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars