Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Had A Good Time by Robert Olen Butler

Had a Good Time

Author: Robert Olen Butler
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Date of Publication: August 9, 2005
Pages: 288 (Trade Paper Edition) 

     This is another stellar set of stories from a terrific writer.  Robert Olen Butler won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.  Had a Good Time is another intriguing book of expertly crafted short stories, each with a very interesting starting point.  The author collects vintage, turn of the century post cards.  He uses the photo and greeting from a different card from his collection as a jumping off point for each story.  This is reminiscent of his collection Tabloid Dreams, in which he used a bizarre but actual headline from a supermarket tabloid as a starting point for each story. 

    In each story the author recreates a vignette of early 1900s America, from small towns in the South to remote farms in desolate South Dakota.  Each story is a carefully constructed character study with many poignant as well as humorous moments.  My personal favorite is “The Ironworker’s Hayride” where a very shy young bachelor is convinced to go on a blind date with a girl who has a wooden leg.  The ensuing hayride and this man’s internal debate with his conscience are hilarious.  This one story alone is worth the purchase price of the book.

     While the author describes scenes with realism and creates memorable characters, the best parts of these stories are the dialogues.  Several of the stories, set in the South with children as main characters, evoke memories of verbal exchanges in Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn.  In others, the plots move along solely through dialogue.  In others, the spoken words set tone and create atmosphere. 

     Robert Olen Butler teaches creative writing at Florida State University.  If you are interested in how a truly masterful writer creates a short story, visit his web-site “Inside CreativeWriting”.   He has a day by day posting of his work on a story, from inception to completion, including edits and revisions.

     This is a very entertaining collection.  The stories themselves are very interesting, but the thought processes behind each one are even more so.  Had a Good Time by Robert Olen Butler is available in hard back from Grove Press.

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