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Severance: Stories Paperback – Bargain Price, April 30, 2008
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Lively writing and a catchy conceit make this collection from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain a thought-provoking, if morbid, read. 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. Though clever in arrangement (Butler convincingly constructs the mind of a dragon, then puts his killer, St. George, on the next page) and complex in its considerations (religious faith is an ongoing theme, from the apostle Matthew's recollection of conversion to a Yemeni executioner's discovery that "the mercy of God seeks sinful love before righteous hatred"), the collection's darting attentions and fractured narratives may frustrate readers. Several entries take a light tone, but what lingers is an unsettling sense of the absurdity—and prevalence—of violence. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* No, this isn't about postemployment pay packages. Severanceis about the severing of heads from bodies. Butler is a commanding and ingenious writer with a love of high-concept undertakings--think Tabloid Dreams (1996) and Had a Good Time(2004). But even for Butler, this collection of unpunctuated prose poems is daring, a book based on two heretofore unrelated facts: theory has it that consciousness lasts for one and a half minutes after decapitation, and people can utter 160 words per minute when agitated. Butler did the math, so each spurt-of-consciousness story is 240 words long. And he did the research, unearthing 62 individuals who lost their heads in executions, at the hands of murderers (most often husbands), and in accidents (Jayne Mansfield). The results are compositions of disquieting beauty, cathartic wit, and transcendent empathy. Most of the decapitated men and women Butler portrays devote their last synaptic firings to memories of sensuous pleasure, while others, including Cicero and Marie Antoinette, return to childhood. The stories grow more viscerally disturbing as Butler moves forward in time. There's Nicole Brown Simpson, for example, and Tyler Alkins, the civilian truck driver beheaded in Iraq. Butler's singular perspective on human bloodshed and the power of the mind make Severance not only unique but also unforgettable. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
One thing has left me wondering about this premise of 90 seconds of consciousness claimed by Dr. Dassy D’Estaing (1883). Who is this doctor? I could find nothing online about D’Estaing and this theory or how he came to his conclusion. If anyone here can confirm valid information about D’Estaing, please post. That said, this extraordinary little adventure into the last thoughts of the newly dead has a sense of absurd beauty.
From Chin Chin Chan beheaded for "maintaining a romatic correspondence with an American girl ...": "moon no longer a blossom a pearl a lantern in a lover's door but a bodiless face, mine, in a train window, she on the platform trying not to look at me directly, as if she were there for someone selse, and the train hurtles in the dark and I stare into the stars and not even a poet could find the moon in this sky no even Li Po in a boat with quill and ink ..." Wonderful.
However, some story/poems I had trouble linking to the individual speaking because I knew too little about their lives to make the pieces fit. It was not the the characters were too obscure; rather that the pieces (rightly) focused on parts of their lives not taught in history books. Given the author's ability to provide sufficient background in many entries, this is not a failure of the form but a failure either of the reader or author. Labeling them prose poems would warn the reader that this stories require the close reading given poems not the casual reading often given prose.
I can't 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. What has surprised me most is how small scenes or visions from the stories float in and out of memory throughout the day, and how Butler connects history, sex and war across time in common and uncommon lives. Whether or not you enjoy poetry, this well worth reading out loud.