Thursday, September 7th, 2006 • No Comments on 240 Words on Robert Olen Butler
Robert Olen Butler has published a new collection of short stories and the title, Severance, and cover, caught my eye. I haven’t bought it yet, but given my current mood, I probably will. How could I resist this description?
Sixty-two entries, each in the voice of a beheaded historical, mythical, animal or modern figure, make up the collection. Each is exactly 240 words, Butler’s estimate of the number of words that could be spoken by a decapitated head before oxygen runs out. Among the post-mortem monologues Butler imagines are John the Baptist, Medusa, Cicero, a chicken, Nicole Brown Simpson, Maximilien Robespierre, Valeria Messalina and himself, “decapitated on the job” in 2008.
I discovered Butler in a creative writing class (it’s no surprise he’s big on southern college campuses, he teaches creative writing at FSU) and his writing stayed with me the way a nightmare will linger days after you experience it. He has a way of skewing reality and fantasy, like the surreal image of blood on white cloth, that makes the words “beautiful tragedy” seem fitting. It’s painful to read him sometimes, I can’t imagine writing like him.
If you haven’t read Butler before, I recommend his story “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot.” It is a bizarre, amusing, heartbreaking story and a good sample of his unique, voyeuristic style. He’s an odd bird, no pun intended.
On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t read this book right now.