A friend of mine tweeted this wonderful short film this morning, and I thought of so many people who would enjoy it that I’m taking a short cut and just posting it here. (If it doesn’t display correctly, I apologize – click the link above and watch it on YouTube.)
I first heard of Robert Olen Butler on NPR when he won the Pulitzer for his collection of short stories A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. He’s written many novels, most of which I think are mediocre, but he has a wonderful touch with short stories – light, but profoundly intimate. I came across Tabloid Dreams more than a decade ago (I know, I’m straying pretty far off the last-two-years path here) when I was working part time at a Crown Books. I’d enjoyed the first collection and thought this would be good too, but really I bought it for the cover. (We’ve talked about this…) It’s a triumph of lurid seduction. “Look at me!” I couldn’t resist.
Each of these stories has a title that might be a tabloid headline: “Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed;” “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot;” “Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover.” (Butler later wrote a full-length novel based on “Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover.”) A surreal and profoundly moving story is behind each of these ludicrously magical titles. My favorite story is “Every Man She Kisses Dies.” It’s tender and strange and profoundly disturbing. You can read it here. Or just get yourself a gorgeously bright copy of Tabloid Dreams for your very own.
Leslie gave me When the Messenger is Hot a couple of years ago after she met Elizabeth Crane. Sixteen short stories of brittleness and strength, hope in spite of damage, each one funny and “never self-indulgent or whiny” (dailycandy.com). All of Crane’s protagonists have a touch of the barking mad about them, and it’s easy to identify with them. Graceful touches of magical realism somehow make her stories even more real. My favorite story is Privacy and Coffee, a delicate and beautiful urban fairy tale of isolation and coping with loss. Hilarious and lovely.