Butler's characters in this collection are drawn from a wide range of social and geographical origins. Each is, in some way, alienated or isolated from significant others in life.
The nameless English gentleman on the Titanic has long been a civil servant in India. He is well-schooled in the theological world view of the Anglican tradition and has learned something of the religious cultures of India as well. He is strongly shaped by the British upper-middle-class notions of good manners, and although he may not agree with his happenstance companion's views on women's liberation, he is too much the gentleman to be unpleasant about her opinions. The woman he longs to embrace is an American suffragette who is strongly committed to a woman's right to chose her own way in life—and eventually in death as well. She recognizes, once "rescued" into a Washington D.C. hotel via the Bermuda Triangle almost a century after the Titanic sinking, that the gentleman she deeply desires is somehow "near" in the water, and she submerges herself, in the end, in cold water in the bathtub confident they will ultimately merge with each other.
Loretta, in "Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband," is a middle-class Midwestern working woman with a husband but no children. A court stenographer, she has recorded years of testimony of men and women in divorce court, and she finds herself in distress as she sees herself in the same situations that had always happened to other people. Discovering that her glass eye, when out of the socket, still allowed her to see and even hear events from its own perspective, Loretta gives the reader a "double vision" account of what she thought, saw, and heard in her own body as well as the events observed by the glass eye when it was out of her eye socket. In shock and in pain, Loretta is virtually beside herself as she sees sign after sign of betrayal and loss. Yet in the grip of emotional trauma, she is powerless to say or do anything to change the shift of her husband's affections to the other woman.
A pilot and a builder of home kit aircraft, Roy originally courted Loretta with flights in his Cessna, giving her, as the saying goes, "a bird's eye view" of the territory around Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While he spends much time in the garage constructing planes to sell, he occasionally takes Loretta out to show her his progress in assembling the airframe, or in putting "the skin" on the wings or fuselage. As his passion for Loretta fades, however, he tries not to show her his interest in someone else. He brings her flowers one day after fourteen years without doing so and erupts in anger when she asks him why. He occasionally has laundered the bed sheets by the time she gets home from her work in court. Roy does not know that Loretta's eye has begun to allow her "remote viewing" of his activities and that Loretta sees all when Roy's lover takes the artificial eye from the water glass to use as a "jewel" in her navel.
The lead characters in the Tabloid Dreams stories are usually isolated or alienated from others in some way. The man and woman in the two Titanic tales were both much absorbed in their work or political interests and neither had experienced a substantial emotional connection with another person. The court stenographer, though losing her husband, also loses her job because, when she sees him by way of the glass eye in his tryst with the other woman in their bedroom, she is so disrupted that she has to leave her work assignment. Gertrude, although sharing decades of experience with her friend Eva, including years of mothering, cooking for family, and especially baking cookies, realizes that she does not think and feel what Eva assumes she does. Gertrude, rather, wishes to bake things really for herself after her husband dies. She has a will to personal freedom that her socialization for the roles of mother and wife does not permit.
The "Jealous Husband . . ." persona lodged in the body of a yellow-nape Amazon parrot had been convinced of his wife's affairs with other men...
(The entire section is 1669 words.)