Robert Olen Butler's last short story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, was a keen, piercing book told largely in the voice of Vietnamese immigrants to America. To say that his new collection is a departure is an understatement: Butler has taken actual headlines from the more outrageous of the supermarket tabloids and fashioned short fiction around them. Headlines such as "Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed," "Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off, Sets Self on Fire," and "Every Man She Kisses Dies" are the starting points for this quirky volume from one of the most original American writers at work today.
From Publishers Weekly
Endlessly playful, inventive and daring, Butler (They Whisper) challenges himself with each new book. He does so again in this intriguing collection of 12 short stories in which he combines the bizarre and the matter-of-fact with remarkable legerdemain. What at first seems a blatant device proves instead to be an interesting catalyst: the titles mimic lurid tabloid headlines, but Butler develops such howlers as "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover" and "Woman Hit by Car Turns into Nymphomaniac" into eerie or outlandish situations that become funny and affecting stories capable of touching universal chords. Each tale has a first-person narrator, ranging from a nine-year-old boy who kills mobsters with insouciance to a jealous husband who is reincarnated as a parrot bought by his former wife. In one irreverent but poignant story, JFK, in hiding since the (unsuccessful) assassination attempt, attends the Jackie auction, where he muses on his late wife's naked body. Although in each entry the epiphanic moment arises from a surreal situation, the format does not result in any sameness of tone, voice, plot structure or setting; the latter include an Alabama trailer park and a Manhattan book editor's plush office. A few stories ("Doomsday Meteor Is Coming"; "Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off, Sets Self on Fire") try too hard, but the collection has a strong emotional impact, especially when one reaches the last story, which echoes the first, both of which are inspired by the sinking of the Titanic.