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Intercourse: Stories Hardcover – May 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Butler moves from death monologues (Severance) to little death monologues in this provocative collection of brief pieces that imagine what goes on in the minds of copulating couples. Many of the voices represent legendary romances, such as that of Napoleon and Josephine (she fantasizes about her lover the hussar while he resolves to shoot her annoying dog); William Shakespeare and the earl of Southampton (I am pen and I am ink and I am his words); and Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (it don't take me more than about three seconds... to know she's the one). Adam lies with Eve after naming all things in nature, and Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln bed uncompanionably. There's J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson (thinks Tolson: little did they know the truth about this great and powerful man), Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, Robert Olen Butler and a Saigon hotel clerk (CNN is muted on the TV screen), and George and Laura Bush (he is the guy who can whip your ass). Butler seals the deal with crystalline prose, a dark imagination and some moments of light camp. (June)
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*Starred Review* Death was the catalyst for Butler’s astounding collection Severance (2006). Now sex inspires a similarly daring cycle of concentrated inner monologues. As always, Butler broaches matters of mystery and profundity, but here he gives full rein to his gift for satire. The array of mythic and real-life couples is itself a source of much wonder and merriment, which is compounded by the carefully researched yet often hard-to-believe circumstances of their sexual encounters. But what makes these scenes so searingly vivid is Butler’s convincing choreography of physical intimacy and mental divergence. Babe Ruth, for instance, replays his first home run in his imagination, while prostitute Josephine endures the “yawps and grunts” of “this overgrown boy” by envisioning herself dancing with a classy “Uptown” man. Mordantly funny takes on the endless battles between men and women and body and soul alternate with uncanny insights into the politics of desire, the fortress of loneliness, and the spectrum of lust, bliss, terror, and indifference. Much thought, imagination, and empathy is at work as Butler portrays Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde, Milton Berle and Aimee McPherson, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and 45 other unlikely yet inevitable pairs. Beautiful and sad, chilling and hilarious. --Donna Seaman