Cover image for Mr. Spaceman : a novel
Mr. Spaceman : a novel
Butler, Robert Olen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
223 pages ; 24 cm
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A humorous and touching novel about an alien being's arrival at the turn of the millennium--by the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain."

Author Notes

Robert Olen Butler is a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and short-story writer who grew up in Granite City, Illinois.

Butler served in Vietnam. Following the Vietnam War, Butler began writing. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, The Paris Review, and The Saturday Review, as well as in four annual editions of the Best American Short Stories and six annual editions of New Stories of the South. A collection of his stories, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Butler's novels include The Alleys of Eden, Countrymen of Bones, and Sun Dogs. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Butler also won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches creative writing at McNeese State University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After the intensity of The Deep Green Sea (1998), Butler returns to the inventive riffs on pop culture found in his short story collection, Tabloid Dreams (1996), in this lightweight millennial fable about a bumbling spaceman on a mission. Called Desi by his adoring earthling wife, Edna Bradshaw--a buxom, fortysomething hairdresser from Alabama--Butler's skinny, big-eyed alien assures the people he beams up to his ship that he's a friendly guy. And indeed, all he does is listen telepathically to their life stories. His last group of abductees are 12 fortune-seekers on a pilgrimage to a Louisiana casino onboard a bus called Luck, and their innermost thoughts are presented in monologues that run the gamut from mawkish to dogmatic and formulaically encapsule such milestones as the Holocaust, Kennedy's assassination, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. Gentle-hearted Desi is troubled by the depth of yearning he finds within the human psyche, but he's goofy, too. Baffled by the vagaries of language, he speaks in an awkward amalgam of down-home southernisms and the inanities of television. But his most immediate concern is his assignment to reveal himself to the people of Earth at midnight on 31 December 1999. The hour is drawing near, and he hopes that his 12 guests will help him, but their assumption that he is Jesus Christ returned for the Second Coming only increases his dread. And as if all this weren't silly enough, Butler stages a parodic Last Supper at which the irrepressible Edna serves a dish called Chicken Wiggle. Butler's wit and compassion are undermined by cuteness and caricature, but readers who don't mind broad strokes and sentimentality will enjoy this undeniably entertaining parable. A minor work by a major writer. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

An alien with a heart of gold beams up 12 people on a casino-bound bus on the eve of the millennium in a last-ditch effort to understand humanity before making his long-planned descent to earth in Butler's boundlessly imaginative tale of self-discovery. Desi, who first appeared in the short story "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover" (Tabloid Dreams, 1997), has been hovering over the U.S. (and watching our TV programs) for some 30 years, collecting the words, memories and yearnings of a few chosen people in a great machine on board his spaceship. Although he is the only remaining representative of his species, he is not alone; keeping him company are his curvaceous human wife, Edna Bradshaw, and their cat, Eddie. With the Wonders of Modern Technology at his disposal (Butler uses capricious capitalization throughout the narrative, to convey Mr. Spaceman's voice and delivery), Desi "interviews" some of the 12 gamblers, bringing forth their voices via the "memory machine" in a series of dramatic monologues that showcase Butler's talent for capturing vernacular and also his gift for parable. Each voice bears witness to a culture-defining event of the 20th century, from the first airplane flight in 1903 to the Branch Davidian debacle at Waco. But before he must make himself known to the world (and in so doing, reveal the "great and fundamental truth of the cosmos"), Edna prepares an unforgettable Alabama-style Last Supper for her spaceman lover and his 12 guests. Through Desi's alien eyes, Pulitzer Prize-winning Butler makes poignant observations about the power (and inadequacies) of language, the logic of dreams and the universal hope for redemption. He balances the playfulness of alien lore with the weight of religion, marrying the comic and the tragic with mastery. In Butler's view, our stories all have certain inevitable endings. This novel raises fin de siecle literature to new heights and turns inevitability on its head. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Tired of Y2K worries and millennial hype? Don't let that discourage you from reading this book, a warmly comic fable set on December 30, 1999. Butler, best known for his Vietnam-era fictions (e.g., 1993's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain), here explores the final frontier. The narrator is Desi, an E.T. look-alike who has spent decades observing Earth and gently abducting Americans to listen to their stories. On New Year's Eve, he'll tell the world's earthlings about life on other planets. In part, this novel succeeds because of the abductees' richly told stories--marvelous soliloquies full of wonder and yearning. But even more important is Desi. His first-person ruminations about the human condition, told in a crazed American English that's been cobbled together from bits of advertisements, slang, and the Alabama speech of Edna, his human wife, are as poignant as they are funny. A charming novel brimming with love; recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/99.]--Brian Kenney, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.