Sunday, January 20, 2008


by Robert Olen Butler

The concept is pretty rad: a human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation, and a person speaks about 160 words a minute in a heightened state of emotion... so, the author wrote 62 stories, each 240 words long, "capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that rush through a mind after the head has been severed." (Quotation from the book jacket.)

Some of the best short stories I've ever read have been of the extremely short variety,* but a whole book of micro-stories becomes rather tiresome after, oh, five or six. Plus, stream of consciousness is always dicey to begin with. After the first ten or so, the choice of characters — ranging from a prehistoric man, to Anne Boelyn, to a roasting chicken, and beyond — became more interesting than the stories themselves. Yet, the stories are so brief, you ought to read them all anyway for the occasional flashes of brilliance. (Such as the aspiring court jester whose acrobatic prank goes awry and ends with him falling crotch-to-face upon his master while "already full excited at my joke.")

Another good toilet book, or, if you're not a compulsive in-bed reader, read one or two just before sleepy time.

*There's a possibly apocryphal tale of Ernest Hemingway's answer to the challenge to write a story in just six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

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