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HAD A GOOD TIME: Stories from American Postcards
Robert Olen Butler
, $23 (267p) ISBN 0-8021-1777-5
After years of collecting early 20th-century postcards, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
) takes 15 choice missives as inspiration for his latest volume of short stories—an ambitious writing exercise that even in his assured hands yields mixed results. The stories range in tone and substance, from the humor of "The Ironworkers' Hayride," in which a man lusts for a sassy suffragette despite her wooden leg ("her mouth is a sweet painted butterfly"), to the melancholy of "Carl and I," about a woman who pines for her consumptive husband ("I breathe myself into my husband's life"). A few stories amount to little more than vignettes or reveries: in "No Chord of Music," a woman takes her husband's car for an empowering ride, and in "Sunday," an immigrant at Coney Island feels blessed to be in America. Other postcards trigger more fully realized stories. "Hurshel said he had the bible up by heart and was fixing to go preaching," reads the card Butler takes as his cue for "Up by Heart," a funny tale that addresses questions of faith and fundamentalism. "My dear gallie... am hugging my saddle horse. Best thing I have found in S.D. to hug," wrote a woman named Abba, inspiring Butler's poignant "Christmas 1910," which evokes the loneliness of a young woman homesteading on the Great Plains. Though many stories are as slight as the postcards themselves, the collection as a whole adds up to a thoughtful commentary on America at the dawn of a new century: while some Americans were buoyed by their confidence in technology and progress, others, at the mercy of a disease-ridden, hardscrabble existence, could trust only in their faith in God. Agent, Kim Witherspoon.