This books dubious achievement is to associate chopping off peoples heads with cuteness. Or should I say Robert Olen Butler imagines that they do exactly the same thing, which is to speed-think an unpunctuated prose-poem about their life and times which often sounds suspiciously like a free-association what-do-you-think-of-when-I-say-the-word-Robespierre?-type exercise, rendered into fluent non-sequiturs and dolloped up on a single page. Now I would have thought myself that the thing at the forefront of these 62 peoples minds during the minute after the bloody deed would have been 1)The fact that they are now dead but still able to think (since they do not know about the 1 minutes of consciousness thing) 2)The fact that they can see their own headless body in some cases 3)The painful experience they have just been through (or maybe it wasnt as bad as they were fearing, who knows) 4)The injustice of their fate 5)Their seething hatred of the person who ordered their head to be chopped off But no, its just the prose poetry.
this is the second book i have read in as many weeks where the author predicts his own death, and that makes me a little queasy, so no more of that please.
My book cover blurb: "The decapitation one is better than the sex one." I didn't exactly walk away from reading Butler's similarly structured book, Intercourse, with much love in my heart, so I felt like I could go into this one and out the other end with a similar outcome.
This book of prose (62 stories, 250 words each) is based on a 19th century French doctors opinion that the head remains conscious for 90 seconds after decapitation. This book requires a slow and thoughtful read about the men and women in history and present day who were beheaded or decapitated.
Whether or not this is deserved, I associate Chronicle Books with titles like "Photographs of Kitschy 1970s-Era Cartoon Themed Garden Implements" and "Naughty Ilustrated Haiku By Cheesecake Models of the Mid-Fifties." This book is kind of in that vein, except the theme here is decapitation (and there are, thankfully, no pictures). Well, so far the author doesn't doesn't seem overly concerned with that question, which might be why this book is able to be good, but also why there is something a bit creepy and distasteful about it. Of course, decapitation is nothing if not creepy and distasteful, so maybe that makes good sense. I'm going to stop writing now, before I give into the urge to make some really dreadful puns (I actually think I deserve some kind of award for my restraint in this review), but I'll make a final report back later on, when I'm done with it.
It is said that a decapitated head can remain in a state of consciousness for 90 seconds.
Since people are likely pretty emotional once they've been decapitated, Butler figured that their final thoughts would run precisely 240 words -- the length of each of the book's 62 pieces, which seek to "capture the flow of thoughts and feelings that rush through a mind after the head has been severed." Yeah, I know, sounds like a stupid gimmick that you'd want to throw across the room after a couple of entries.
"After decapitation, the human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes." "In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute." Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Olen Butler has written 62 stories of 240 words in length, each about some decapitated figure (legendary, canonical, historical, zoological).
I cant remember the last book of poetry I read, and though Severance is labeled a book of stories, I have a hard time believing this is anything but the suggestive, dewy dream-state that a good set of poems can capture.
I had a look at what other people thought of this book & I find it odd that so many people have commented on the theme of this book being a gimmick.
Ill never stop believing it: Robert Olen Butler is the best living American writer, period. Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Robert Olen Butler has published sixteen novelsThe Alleys of Eden, Sun Dogs, Countrymen of Bones, On Distant Ground, Wabash, The Deuce, They Whisper, The Deep Green Sea, Mr. Spaceman, Fair Warning, Hell, A Small Hotel, The Hot Country, The Star of Istanbul, The Empire of Night, Perfume Riverand six volumes of short fictionTabloid Dreams, Had a Good Time, Severance, Intercourse, Weegee Stories, and A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and has received two Pushcart Prizes. They have been chosen for inclusion in four annual editions of The Best American Short Stories, eight annual editions of New Stories from the South, several other major annual anthologies, and numerous college literature textbooks from such publishers as Simon & Schuster, Norton, Viking, Little Brown & Co., Houghton Mifflin, Oxford University Press, Prentice Hall, and Bedford/St.Martin and most recently in The New Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford.