The delightfully morbid Severance – by Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler – has quickly become one of my favorite short-story reads. One of my writing professors mentioned it somewhere down the line of my college career, and the idea of recently beheaded characters sharing their final thoughts before the lights go out…well, obviously it sparked my interest. So I scribbled the book’s title in a corner of my notebook and searched for a copy on Amazon that day.
It’s a very quick and very interesting read, some characters real, some fictional, each story appearing almost as a poem. I’ve always been a huge fan of the stream-of-consciousness style, and at times even try to work it into my own writing.
Butler’s book was inspired by two concepts:
1.) “After decapitation, the human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes.”
2.) “In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute.”
So, of course, once each character is presented and their cause of beheaded-ness is explained, their final, headless thoughts are given to us in the form of 160 words. My personal favorites (with brief excerpts) are:
“Valeria Messalina: wife of Emperor Claudius I of Rome, beheaded by order of her husband, 48”
“we are panting now we are the Circus Maximus we are the rush of wheels the wild breath of horses on the throne room floor the bright expanse of marble I shift my eyes and I see us both in the mirror of stone”
“Dragon: beast, beheaded by Saint George, 301”
“my wings are still, I close my eyes and open them and all around are the quivery greentops and the great ball of breath above, I will fly up that high sometime but now I am in a peaceful dawdle that I don’t understand, full in the center and sweet heavy in my legs and fluttery of the wingtips”
Yes, there is a dragon. There’s a chicken, too. Butler even ends with himself! And so, laden with inspiration after reading these very interesting pieces, I’ve decided to try recording my own final thoughts.
Nicole Marie, decapitated by a crazed fan of her award-winning debut novel, 2014 (wishful thinking.)
but everything is so bright, turn out the lights and come to bed, I whispered, why can’t you hear me? it’s that dream again, the one where I’m running but not getting anywhere the one where I see you then I don’t it’s dark, it’s so dark and I can’t back out of this tunnel before the cold comes again the whiteness of the highway always bothered me, the clips that were supposed to keep us awake and now it’s Christmas and the fan is buzzing and my head is in your lap while you pull that blanket to my chin you kiss my forehead, it’s a bad hangover or something worse I’m nauseous that pit is in my stomach again why do I have to leave you’re transparent I feel the sweat on your face your jacket smells like fire they never were proud of me were they? i’m so proud of you, you said, get some sleep now
It would be pretty awesome to see what you guys could come up with. Any takers? Post and link back? Anyone? Is this thing on?