By Fernando Silva
Tabloid Dreams is a collection of stories written by award winning author Robert Olen Butler first published in Oct. 15, 1997. Butler has a good number of previously published titles under his belt, a few of which being the Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection A Good Scent on Strange Mountain and novels such as Sun Dogs and Wabash. Butler’s style of writing is that of magical realism, a style which is as it is named, magical.
With a name like that, you’ll be getting something similar to your expectations: a-true-to-life setup followed by mystical or outlandish events. One my personal favorites in the collection is “Doomsday Meteor Is Coming” in which protagonist Linus learns of a possible earth-ending event, and must now worry himself not only with the possibility of the end of life as he knows it, but also has to deal with his girlfriend Janis’ desire to “get [her] left nipple pierced, the one over my heart.”
What really stuck out to me in my reading of the a few of his stories was the author’s ability to get across the “weirdness” of talking. Now, I don’t simply mean this in the sense that some people just have a strange way of talking, but that the characters the author writes don’t think the same, cookie-cutter way. Linus from “Doomsday Meteor Is Coming”, a young man wondering about piercing his nipple, has a different manner of going about his daily routine, thinking briefly on the events going on around him and doing so in the words of your average guy, and Gertie from “Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off, Sets self on Fire” is an older woman, close to the end of her life (by self-immolation) who is thinking clearly on the past and events that have brought her to the point she’s at thoroughly. While the thought may seem simple to you in a “yeah, not everyone talks or thinks the same way, that’s obvious” way, it’s not simple to get a hold of it, but Butler does so rather well.
Coming off what he did well, there was one major flaw I saw in this book, and that was that the book simply not being a particularly great example of the genre of magical realism. I don’t mean this in the sense that the book is written poorly, but more that it isn’t particularly out there. The book has a feel similar to reading crazy outlines from online news outlets that just couldn’t be true, but the more you read on, the more you see the reality in the situation, but not really any of the magic. I can understand this more likely than not is the intention, but don’t come to the collection expecting something like Borges.
In the end, I’d say this book is a great read for anyone looking for stories written by an author who really knows how to go “out there” in his plots and has distinct, well portrayed characters throughout.