Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Robert Olen Butler


This week I read three stories from Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards by Robert Olen Butler. My husband purchased this book recently and read all the stories and liked the book very much. 

Butler collects postcards from the early 1900s and he used some of these postcards as the basis for the stories in this book. Thus all of the stories are set in that time period. 

Each story is preceded by an image of the front and back of the postcard, and the message on the postcard is reproduced. 

I read the first three stories. Each was written in first person narrative, and they all were between 10-20 pages in length. I enjoyed all of them. 

"Hotel Touraine" is about a bellboy working at the hotel, and his reaction to the very rich guests, in particular one very young man who is heir to millions. 

"Mother in the Trenches" is a bit different, based on a photo of a woman in the trenches with those words written at the bottom. The narrator of the story is a woman who has journeyed from the US to France to visit her son in the infantry. A very moving story.

"The Ironworkers' Hayride" is more humorous than the first two stories, and a bit longer. The narrator is an introverted young man who works as an accountant for the ironworks in Sunnyvale, California. Another man has asked him to take his sister-in-law on a hayride and he has told him that the sister-in-law has a wooden leg. I am not sure if the narrator is too shy or worried about the wooden leg, but he eventually gives in and escorts her on the hayride. This was Glen's favorite story in the book, although he liked them all. This story was made into a one-act opera with libretto by Robert Olen Butler. 

When I first read these stories I thought "Mother in the Trenches" was my favorite of the three. But in the days since I read them, parts of all three of them have returned to my mind often, so I guess I just like them all.

I have never read anything else by Robert Olen Butler, but I will be reading the remaining stories in this book and look for other short stories by him.


George said...

I've read a couple of Robert Olen Butler books and enjoyed them. This sounds good! I'll pick up a copy. Nice review!

TracyK said...

Thanks, George. I am very glad that my husband discovered this book and we will both be looking into other books the author wrote.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN for a course I took on the Vietnam War. I liked those stories a lot. I wonder why I never read more from him.

Lark said...

I love the whole postcard theme in this collection...so cool!

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, that's really interesting, Tracy, to base a set of short stories on postcards! I've written stories in response to photo prompts, but never postcards. I'm glad you enjoyed what you read.

TracyK said...

Patti, A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN is one of the short story books I will look for.

TracyK said...

Lark, this book does have an unusual premise. And so far the stories have been very good, and I like the time setting too.

TracyK said...

Margot, I have especially enjoyed the first person narration also. When done well, it is my favorite style of writing.

CLM said...

Fabulous cover! I have never read him but this is an intriguing concept. And it is fun when you can share a book with a family member.

I hosted my book group last week and we discussed The Thursday Murder Club. I saw book 3 in the "new" section at the library a day or so later and snatched it up, although I had planned to wait. Another delightful series entry! I think each book gets better.

TracyK said...

Constance, I agree, great cover and interesting content. I was glad Glen discovered the book.

We also agree on the Thursday Murder Club series. The first book was fun, I loved all the characters. But the second and third ones were even better. And it would be a great book to discuss in a group.

Cath said...

What an interesting premise for a book. Very clever. The author is completely new to me too.

Just reading what you and Constance are saying about Richard Osman's books. He's given up hosting one of the two quiz shows he hosts for the BBC, I think in order to concentrate on his writing. I can't believe he had any idea that his books would go down as well as they have. I must grab book 2 as I haven't got around to that yet, especially as you two reckon 2 and 3 are even better than book 1.

TracyK said...

Cath, I plan to try one of Robert Olen Butler's novels too, I just haven't figured out where to start.

It is amazing how well Richard Osman's books have gone over, and I am very glad.