The Devil tweets, courtesy Robert Olen Butler
Robert Olen Butler is an author with a flair for the big concept. Inspired by the information that consciousness lasts for 1.5 minutes after decapitation, he wrote "Severance," 62 short (240-word) stories of the last thoughts of those, real and imagined, who've just lost their heads. Marie Antoinette, John the Baptist, Medusa, Cicero and a chicken all, uh, made the cut.
Then there was 2008's "Intercourse," the paired narratives of what's going through the minds of coupes as they copulate (Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Napolean and Josephine). And up next is "Hell" coming in September. It's a longer narrative, one that bumps into more famous characters Humphrey Bogart, William Shakespeare, popes and presidents.
And, since July 4, the Butler's Devil has been sending out missives on Twitter, as @TweetsFromHell. A sample:
July 4: A. Lincoln & J.W. Booth dissolve wailing as one in sulfur rain & share nights at the theatre: forgotten lines & shooting pains & bad reviews
Tweeting as the Devil is a pretty brilliant idea, promising fun and wickedness. But Butler's parade-of-the-famous is starting to feel a little rote. Dick Cheney -- really? Isn't that a little easy? Isn't the vice president who shot a friend in the face, well, a pretty obvious bad guy?
Butler is no slouch -- he won the Pulitzer in 1993 for his short story collection "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" and is a professor of creative writing at Florida State. But looking back, it feels like he's begun leaning on celebrity for a while to do some of the storytelling work for him. And celebrities are, by their nature, flattened out, little more than symbols -- can imagining Bill and Hillary's sex life amount to any more than a cheap laugh or two? Didn't Dante see popes in hell about 700 years ago? Isn't there a more interesting slant on evil than Dick Cheney?
Sigh. I imagine I'll burn in hell for saying so. On Twitter, at least.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Image: BBQ, 2004 by Shag. Courtesy Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana