Saturday, March 14, 2009
Severance: Stories, by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, is a book of 62 stories based on two 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.
Each story consists of 240 words of stream-of-conciousness - the amount of words that could be uttered in one and a half minutes in a state of agitation.
These are the post-mortem thoughts of fictional, historical, mythical, animal and modern day figures who lost their head, but are given a voice for 240 words.
Characters include John the Baptist, Medusa, a chicken, Jayne Mansfield, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Tyler Alkins, the civilian truck driver beheaded in Iraq. The latter stories in the book are more disturbing as Butler moves through history into our present day.
Some of the last thoughts are remembrances of special times, others are a retreat to childhood. This book, while morbid, is quite thought provoking and will stay with you for a long time.