(John) Robert Gover Biography
Robert Gover comments:
Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1929. Education: Girard College, Philadelphia; University of Pittsburgh, B.A. in economics 1953. Career: Held a variety of jobs, including reporter on various newspapers, in Pennsylvania and Maryland, until 1961.
J.C. Kitten Trilogy. Berkeley, California, Reed, 1982.
One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. London, Spearman, 1961;New York, Grove Press, 1962.
Here Goes Kitten. New York, Grove Press, 1964; London, May-flower, 1965.
J.C. Saves. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1968; London, Arrow, 1979.
The Maniac Responsible. New York, Grove Press, 1963; London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1964.
Poorboy at the Party. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1966.
Going for Mr. Big. New York, Bantam, 1973; London, Arrow, 1979.
To Morrow Now Occurs Again (as O. Govi). Santa Barbara, California, Ross Erikson, 1975.
Getting Pretty on the Table (as O. Govi). Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1975.
Bring Me the Head of Rona Barrett. San Francisco, Hargreaves, 1981.
Voodoo Contra. York Beach, Maine, Weiser, 1985.
Editor, The Portable Walter: From the Prose and Poetry of Walter Lowenfels. New York, International Publishers, 1968.
Robert Gover: A Descriptive Bibliography by Michael Hargreaves, Westport, Connecticut, Meckler, 1988.
His trilogy, One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, Here Goes Kitten, and J.C. Saves, captures in two characters relations between Black and White in America, especially as it evolved during the 1960s.
J.C. Holland first meets Kitten while he is a university sophomore and she a thirteen-year-old prostitute. In the second book, J.C. is public relations director of the local political party in power and encounters Kitten as a nightclub singer, or "B-girl." In the third, he finds her ducking police gunfire during a "race riot." The Maniac Responsible examines the why of a rape-murder case. The protagonist, Dean, becomes so involved in the invisible mental process that led to the brutal slaying that he becomes "possessed." Gover uses Joycean techniques to vivify his character's mental world.
Poorboy at the Party mythologizes the split between rich and poor in America. Randy, the main character, goes with his wealthy friend to a party in a large mansion containing art treasures. Conflicting emotions and values plant seeds of frustration and the party erupts into a violent orgy of destruction.
Going for Mr. Big is the tale of a pimp and his two ladies and a millionaire and his wife. Luke Small is a self-styled revolutionary with a lust to pull down the rich and powerful, but his "campaign" to conquer Malcolm McMasters first backfires, then resolves itself in a meaningful togetherness that is outside the prevailing economic system.
To Morrow Now Occurs Again, published under Gover's pen-name O. Govi, is a surrealist romp through a mythical land called all Damnation, which is one big Plantation where Big Money is the Holy Spirit. The protagonist, Big I and little me, soul and ego of one entity, is baffled by the situation he finds himself in. The Rat Doctor, whose experimental maze of millions of rats is periodically studied to show the workings of society and shed light on the religion of Big Money, does not deter Big I from asserting that his currency is eternal.
Victor Versus Mort, a novella published only in Portuguese, pits two archetypal forces against each other in an American social setting. In the end, the main character's worldly successes are eclipsed by death.
Getting Pretty on the Table, also a novella, carries into a suburban orgy a game played by pimps and prostitutes. The game combines psychic therapy and spiritual cleansing.
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In the "After Words" to J.C. Saves (the last volume of the trilogy begun with One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding and Here Goes Kitten), Robert Gover tell us that at the beginning "I had no preconceived idea where these two characters would lead me, their author." Unfortunately, the reader's sharing of that aimlessness is such that he arrives at the last page of the last volume with the sense that the trilogy is completed only because the author has told him so. There is no reason why the characters might not go on in book after book, ad infinitum, like the Rover Boys. When J.C. Holland, the white middle-class protagonist, and Kitten, his black prostitute love, achieve their partial understanding at the end of J.C. Saves, it is clear that the slightest alteration provided by another time and other circumstances will be enough to set another story in motion. For the fact is that this is formula fiction: shake up the characters, move them to a new starting point, put them in motion, follow the formula, and you have another book. The other works, from Poorboy at the Party through Getting Pretty on the Table, play variations on the same basic themes.
Yet there is an honesty in Gover, a vision of the life about him and a quality of writing that raises him above the level of either the pulp pornographer or the slick composer of bestsellers. However much he taxes the reader's impatience with shallow characterizations, absurd plot manipulations, gratuitous sex, and moral implications that are occasionally downright silly, he is at times an accomplished satirist. One must only imagine his books in the form of Classic Comics, illustrated by cartoonists for Mad Magazine, to be made aware how sure is his touch of the particular grotesque exaggeration that comically, or cruelly, reveals a specific truth. His are not realistic novels, but verbal comic strips, sharing a good many of the virtues and faults of such a paradigm of the genre as Norman Mailer's An American Dream.
In large measure he is a moralist—disgusted at times, bitter and angry at others, but always subordinating the matter to the message. And the message is always the same: the Anglo-Saxon American power structure has created a society in which sex and violence are so perversely twisted together that there is no place for honest respect and affection between individuals, classes, or races. Never showing what society might be, he concentrates his attention on the extremes of actuality that he sees as emblematic of the whole. In some respects his most memorable statement is The Maniac Responsible, where he parallels the movements of a reporter covering a brutal sex murder with the man's movements while attempting to seduce his teasingly voluptuous neighbor. Finally driven by circumstances (the natural circumstances, the author suggests, of the American way of life) and his own sensitivity, he becomes a suspect in the murder and breaks down into an admission that he, himself, is the maniac responsible (as we all are) for the rape and murder of the girl.
Sex is in the forefront of all Gover's novels. However, the human failures he depicts are not to be blamed on sex, but rather on the failure of its right use, the tendency to treat the other human beings as a means rather than an end. Significantly, in the twisted world of Gover's vision the individual who seems best to know how to use her sex is Kitten, the African-American prostitute. Significantly, too, the Kitten trilogy, Poorboy at the Party, and The Maniac Responsible all end in rejections of the middle-class societies they have portrayed.
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