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978-0-8021-1660-4 / 9780802116604

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About the book:

Desi is a spaceman who has a way with words. Listening to them, that is. He's been hovering over Earth for years, occasionally beaming up earthlings and telepathically auditing their personal histories. At the opening of Robert Olen Butler's metaphysical comedy, the date is December 30, 2000. Desi has beamed up a busload of gamblers bound for a Louisiana casino. His wife, Edna Bradshaw--beamed up earlier from Bovary, Alabama--is making sausage balls, a dish she believes will comfort the astonished visitors. Together, Desi and Edna put everyone so at ease that the abductees quickly become disciples.

Butler's narrator is a happy comic creation, a deadpan alien in love with his wife and her fine set of knockers: "There are three things about this planet which are too wonderful for me. Make that four things. The way of dreams in the mind; the way of tears in the eyes; the way of words in the mouth; and the way of my wife Edna Bradshaw when she acts like a cat and lovenibbles me into her arms." In a novel that eludes classification, Butler propels Desi's linguistic struggles, busload of disciples, and attempts to plumb the mystery of human yearning to a tight climax as he plans his first public appearance on Earth, which his new followers believe is a second coming. Mr. Spaceman is by turns a fond satire of science fiction, an ode to the South, and an exploration of marital dynamics that's as besotted with detail as any Anne Tyler novel--though the perspective tilts a little off-center. Edna gives her spaceman a fond pinch on the cheek, and he observes,

Her hand lunges forward and grabs a sizeable part of my cheek and squeezes and jiggles it. This physical attack is very distressing to me, especially given the sudden light-heartedness of her demeanor as she does it. This is a side to Edna that shocks me, and the violence goes on. I am bearing it the best I can and now Edna even says, "Oh you spaceman," in that cheery, loving voice that I have grown to recognize in spite of the neutrality of the words themselves. I am very confused and her attack on my cheek ceases and her hand drops and I think I may have missed something. I think she has meant this gesture as a friendly thing. After all, she does not have suckers on her fingers.
Butler also frequently digresses into the narrative voices of the earthlings in their monologues about their lives. Alas, so appealing is Desi's narrative voice that these (admittedly often virtuoso) forays into other voices offer a degree of frustration. --Claire Dederer

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