Sources for Further Study (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Atlanta Journal Constitution. December 15, 1996, p. K10.
Booklist. XCIII, October 1, 1996, p. 321.
Boston Globe. November 20, 1996, p. E4.
Chicago Tribune. November 17, 1996, XIV, p. 3.
Library Journal. CXXI, September 1, 1996, p. 212.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 3, 1996, p. 2.
The New York Times Book Review. CI, November 3, 1996, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, September 2, 1996, p. 110.
San Francisco Chronicle. October 6, 1996, p. REV3.
USA Today. December 12, 1996, p. D9.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, November 10, 1996, p. 1.
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Butler has used story tides that are common to articles in the weekly tabloid newspapers available in supermarkets, and the stories contain elements from various sensationalized urban legends of the late twentieth century. Along with fictionalized accounts of movie stars' infidelities or health or contract woes, the tabloids have for years proffered tales of John F. Kennedy being alive but incognito somewhere, of aliens abducting ordinary people from their homes or cars, of biblical prophecies of doomsday, of astronomers' prophecies of meteors some day to hit the earth, of sightings of Elvis Presley, of boats and aircraft and their crews being lost in the Atlantic region called the Bermuda Triangle, and so on.
Among the stories, Butler weaves occasional cross-references that connect stories which might at first reading seem quite unrelated, threading just enough familiarity through disparate works to make the book title accurate. In addition to the clearly mirrored effects of the Titanic stories, Butler's Edna Bradshaw thinks of making cookies for her spaceman, in terms that echo Gertrude's cooking contest situation in "Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off. ..": "... just last week I got a prize-winning recipe, off a can of cooking spray, that looks like it'd put flesh on a fencepost." The Generation X-type narrator in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, Linus, who is so impressed by the threat of worldwide destruction by meteor, has learned of the threat from the editor of Real World Weekly—a sensationalist rag or tabloid— who is interviewed on a television show entitled Inside Scoop. The New York book editor who denies being a nymphomaniac has been so labeled by that very editor of Real World Weekly, and she uses a piece of meteorite on his desk as a murder weapon. The image of the rock from outer space crashing down from above serves as resolution for one story, title concept for another.
Within individual stories, too, Butler at times makes particularly adept use of images pertinent to the subject matter in play. The sexually active New York book editor, for example, describes her voice while seducing the tabloid editor as "slick as K-Y jelly," a lubricant with assorted hospital uses, but applied by the average non-medical user as a genital lubricant. Also, as Linus, in "Doomsday Meteor Is Coming," reflects on his childhood response to his grandmother's death and the possible process of dead...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Many people scorn the wildly sensational headlines of the tabloid weeklies that many supermarkets place close to their checkout stands, and yet as they wait to purchase their groceries, many become curious enough about the oddities and tragedies emblazoned across the newsprint to actually buy the papers. Celebrities frequently sue tabloids for misrepresentations or falsehoods that have been printed, and many ordinary folk at times try to make some money by offering to sell tragic personal stories or pictures of odd people or outlandish phenomena.
At first glance, by gathering a dozen stories with sensationalistic titles into a volume entitled Tabloid Dreams, Butler may seem to be doing no more than "cashing in" on popular low-brow appetites for sex and violence. However, his persistent sensitivity for the needs of the human heart and soul shows through-in each of the stories. The apparent rambling of a character's thoughts from a present event off to a memory and back to the present event gives the reader full display of what that character struggles with at heart. Sometimes the character recognizes what he or she desires and what must be done to achieve it, and sometimes the character cannot think or act effectively to fulfill the need.
1. How well do the first and last stories—the Titanic stories—work together? How many factors such as references to water and details of the ship sinking connect the two? Do they create a special effect by bracketing the other ten stories, or should they have been placed together? If used together in the collection, would they work better as the first two or the last two stories in the collection, or should they be in the middle?
2. How many images or references in some way connect one story with another? Do the shared references such as the meteor motif which shows as resolution material in one story and title theme premise in another story hold the set of stories together well, or do they seem artificial attempts to connect unrelated tales? Should one set of characters be used through all the plot lines to make the collection unified?
3. How many narrators in the collection are male and how many are female? How varied are they in age and social status? How believable are women such as Edna Bradshaw or Gertrude Schmidt.
4. In "Boy Born with Tattoo of Elvis," how did the mother first respond to the birthmark? How did other people respond...
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The tide of the collection, Tabloid Dreams reflects the modish and sensationalistic premises of the individual story tides: they read like the headlines of the yellow journalism tabloids commonly available at supermarket check stands. The often forlorn and isolated characters in the stories display in various ways the human need for a fulfilling relationship. The need may be that of a son longing for an absent father and struggling with the role of "the man of the house" as shown in "Nine-Year- Old Boy Is World's Youngest Hit Man," or it may be the need of the boyfriend or girlfriend in a courting relationship, as in "Every Man She Kisses Dies," "Doomsday Meteor Is Coming," and "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover," or it may be an overtly sexual expression of need as in "Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband," "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot," and "Woman Struck by Car Turns into Nymphomaniac."
Many of the tales involve a surrealistic factor, reflecting the late twentieth-century popular taste for something beyond the realistic, factual explanations of life situations. The initial story "Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed" uses a watery spiritualist variation on the premise that the atoms which composed a person of one era later exist in the body of another person centuries later. The narrator of the story recalls his encounter with a woman on the Titanic as it was sinking, then recalls perceptions, not of judgment and an afterlife in hell, heaven, or somewhere in between, but perceptions of other water-related situations prior to having his consciousness alight in the plastic channels of a waterbed, beneath a couple still embodied in their flesh. The final story, "Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle," like a bookend, features a woman who remembers being attracted to the gentleman who saw her to a lifeboat as the Titanic was sinking. In both stories, much realistic detail of the last hours of the Titanic is blended with the supernatural or surreal depiction of the human spirit or consciousness transcending the disaster by the man's inexplicable floating through time and water, and the woman's apparent time-warp rescue from the Bermuda Triangle. Neither narrator understands the dynamics of enduring past the end of a physical life, and neither perceives a purpose for enduring other than the yearning for contact with the other.
As many in the...
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In the New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle Philip explains to a traveling Ethiopian court official a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, a passage of sacrificial suffering. The Apostle Philip interprets the Old Testament material as a prophecy of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who suffered death to pay for the sins of others. The Ethiopian official, in the New Testament account, believes and asks to be baptized immediately at the roadside. Butler's Philip explains to the woman who sees both her father and her God in terms of Old Testament Law and rejection for her sexual activity, that her father is not God, and she should not construe her God as being as loveless as her father had been. In allusive parallel, not to the evangelist and explicator Philip, but to the Jesus of Nazareth depicted in the New Testament as eventually suffering death by crucifixion, Philip's last words before the kiss are "I am a carpenter." He is willing to die for love of her, embodying the doctrine of Grace.
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While none of the stories in Tabloid Dreams connect specifically with Viet Nam war themes of veterans or refugees, a number of factors in the stories do show parallels to or variations on characterizations or plot figures in Butler's war-related works. "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot" uses the idea of a human consciousness carried within a parrot. His "Mr. Green" in A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (1992; see separate entry) uses the same premise. However, in "Jealous Husband . . .," the narrating persona is within the parrot; in "Mr. Green," the narrator is the woman who owns the parrot and recognizes her Grandfather's spirit in its actions. The frustrated boys in "Nine-Year-Old Boy is World's Youngest Hit Man" and "Boy Born With Tattoo of Elvis" bear similarities to the rebellious teenager, Tony, in The Deuce.
"Every Man She Kisses Dies," "Woman Struck by Car Turns into Nymphomaniac," and "Boy Born with Tattoo of Elvis" all include women with active sex lives and contending to some degree with others' attitudes toward their sexual relationships. Similar situations are at play in Butler's novels, The Alleys of Eden (1981; see separate entry), Sun Dogs, On Distant Ground (1985; see separate entry), The Deuce (1989; see separate entry), and They Whisper (1994; see separate entry),as well as in several of the stories in A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.
Beyond his own milieu, Butler's water-borne Englishman's spirit seems akin to the persona in a number of Emily Dickinson's poems such as "Because I could not stop for death," in which consciousness carries into an afterlife that shows recognition of a spirit persisting in some form of a material world, but one not conforming directly to traditional depictions of heaven or hell or judgment. Gertrude Schmidt's misunderstood impulse for freedom after her husband's death echoes the core idea of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour."
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