The dozen short stories in Tabloid Dreams all involve human needs for and in relationships. The Titanic tales that bracket the other ten develop two characters who have been isolated from another's passion and touch, the man for fear of intimacy, and the woman by her passion for the cause of equal rights for her gender in a patriarchal society.
Loretta of the glass eye can see herself and her husband moving step by step through the classic stages of a dying marriage—his passion is lost to her and focused on another woman. Loretta can see the pattern, but cannot stop it. The sixteen-year-old boy bearing the Elvis birthmark resents his mother's pattern of taking up with one man after another, and only begins to understand the power and depth of passion for intimacy after his first encounter with a girl.
The elderly woman who immolates herself at the baking contest has realized that, regardless of her wishes to do things for herself after forty years of marriage, she is still baking for her late husband— she is not free to pursue her passion for baking for herself.
The parrot in "Jealous Husband Returns . . ." still has awareness enough of his recent life as a man to know he still loves and desires his wife, but all the passion he yearns to express to her is limited to phrases such as "pretty bird" and "bad bird."
The book editor who moves from her one boyfriend to a succession of sexual encounters in "Woman Struck by Car . . ." justifies her passion, not as nymphomania, but as seeing each new man intensely as an individual. She wishes to pursue her sexual passion without being labeled or controlled by what others think.
From the perspective of Freudian psychology, a gun is seen as a phallic symbol, and the undersized boy in "Nine- Year-Old ..." uses guns to "be a man" in ways no one expects him to be.
The wayward preacher's daughter in "Every Man She Kisses Dies" draws directly on citations from the Book of Proverbs to explain her struggle with her perceptions of God as the Old Testament Father who condemns sexual relationships outside of marriage as wrong. She cannot understand why her passion for love should be wrong or deadly to others. She struggles with her personal responsibility in having the power to kill with a kiss. In this tale, too, Butler makes overt connection with the problem of AIDS as the character agonizes over what the nature of God must be if such terrible suffering can be linked to a person's deepest passions. The last relationship in the story weaves in Christological allusions to sacrificial love and, by implication, the operations of Old Testament Law and judgment are answered with New Testament theology of Grace.
Linus, the somewhat shy narrator of "Doomsday Meteor Is Coming" takes a television gossip show story about the threat from space more seriously than his friends. The notion of impending death, of no future, makes him more sensitive to his girlfriend's wishes. Caught up in the vogue of body piercing, Janis already has ear, nose and lip rings, while...
(The entire section is 793 words.)