Severance: Stories

Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler won a Pulitzer for a collection of stories a few years back. He now gives us a collection of what come closer to prose poems than short stories. The conceit here is that the human head remains conscious for roughly a minute-and-a-half after being severed. Butler calculated that out as enough time to think 240 words and then put himself in the place of the beheaded: famous, infamous and unnamed. From a prehistoric hunter decapitated by the swipe of a saber-toothed tiger’s paw and Marie “Let them eat cake” Antoinette to accident victim Jayne Mansfield and recent victims of “insurgents” in Iraq, Butler comes up with some really intriguing—and morbidly interesting—tales. One pick at realism, though: All of these folks think so articulately. Why does nobody say, “Oh, shit”?