Monday, November 13, 2006

Severance, by Robert Olen Butler

Severance
Robert Olen Butler

According to some researcher, the human head can retain consciousness for about a minute and a half after it is severed from its body. According to some other researcher, a person in an emotional state can speak about 160 words per minute. Put the two together and you have Severance, a collection of very short (160 words) stories narrated by the severed heads of some pretty famous people.

The premise is intriguing. What did Marie Antoinette think as her head fell to the earth? What about Anne Boleyn? What about John Martin, a boy decapitated by the subway in a freak accident in 1921? Intriguing, indeed.

Unfortunately, the stories don't always make sense to me. With the exception of those whose deaths came suddenly, many of the people being decapitated were prepared for it. Wouldn't, then, their final thoughts be something along the lines of OH MY GOD MY HEAD IS CUT OFF instead of "and I touched my father's hand, it was soft and my mother is so kind" or something else totally off-topic.

For example, I imagined my head was about to be severed from my body. Again, assuming I was prepared for such a stroke, I believe my final thoughts would go a little something like this:

Please don’t let this hurt please don’t let this hurt dear Jesus I can’t believe this is how I’m going to go please take care of me I’m so so so sorry for all the shitty stuff I’ve done, just please take pity on me and help me get through this but with my eyes closed shut tight how will I know when it’s actually happened? how will I know? will I be able to feel it? I’m so scared I really didn’t want my head to get cut off I hope that he’s gentle and that the blade is sharp oh god what if the blade isn’t sharp and they have to try a couple times oh dear Jesus I can’t believe this is happening to me I can’t even handle going to the dentist and now I’m getting my head cut off I have to think of something pleasant, ok cookies yes I like cookies they are nice

See? The point is, I wouldn't be thinking of having sex or anything at all other than the fact that I was about to get MY FRIGGIN HEAD CUT OFF.

And so, while I think a lot of his "stories" are quite lovely and poetic, the majority of them seem to be just a bit silly. There were a few real gems (Anne Boleyn's was quite beautiful, for example) but some seemed overly obscure and stuffy.

In a nutshell: An interesting premise but not for the ages.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

1 comment:

Kristin Dodge said...

Too funny! I would have the same thoughts. One and a half minutes? That's a long time to wonder if your eyes are filled with dust.