Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler

Title: Severance: Stories
Author: Robert Olen Butler
Rating: 3.5 Stars

The human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes after decapitation. In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. Inspired by the intersection of these two seemingly unrelated concepts, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler wrote sixty-two stories, each exactly 240 words in length, capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that go through a person's mind after their head has been severed. The characters are both real and imaginedMedusa (beheaded by Perseus, 2000 BC), Anne Boleyn (beheaded at the behest of Henry VIII, 1536), a chicken (beheaded for Sunday dinner, Alabama, 1958), and the author (decapitated, on the job, 2008). Told with the intensity of a poet and the wit of a great storyteller, these final thoughts illuminate and crystallize more about the characters' own lives and the worlds they inhabit than many writers manage to convey in full-length biographies or novels. The stories, which have appeared in literary magazines across the country, are a delightful and intriguing creative feat from one of today's most inventive writers. - Summary from Goodreads

This short story collection contains sixty-two stories, all of which are exactly 240 words long. The stories are told from the point-of-view of famous figures from history, mythical characters, a random chicken, etc. all of whom were beheaded. These 240 word stories show the thoughts of these characters after their head has been severed from their body. Despite being short, there are lines that have more than one meaning in them which shows the economy of the writer. Stories that seem to be straight forward turn out to have undercurrents of the most disturbing scenes and subjects. Because the stories were so short, they were incredibly addicting and it was always exciting to see who lost their head next. 

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