Cover image for Had a good time : stories from American postcards
Had a good time : stories from American postcards
Butler, Robert Olen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
267 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


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In Robert Olen Butler's dazzling new book of stories, Had a Good Time, he explores America by finding artistic inspiration in an unlikely and fascinating place-the backs of postcards from a bygone era. For many years Butler has collected picture postcards from the early twentieth century-not so much for the pictures on the front but for the messages written on the backs, little bits of the captured souls of people long since passed away. Only Butler could use these brief messages of real people from another age to create fully imagined stories that speak to the universal human condition. From the hilarious "The Ironworkers' Hayride," where a young man named Milton dates a girl with a wooden leg, to the deeply moving "Carl and I," where a young wife writes a postcard in reply to a card from her husband who is dying of tuberculosis, to the eerily familiar "The One in White," where a newspaper reporter covers an incident of American military adventurism in a foreign land, these fifteen stories convey a complex and true vision of America and Americans that resonates profoundly into our own time.

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

Butler is a supremely versatile and questing fiction writer, and his 13 books run the gamut from zestful social satire to romance to profound contemplations of war. He is also an ardent collector of early-twentieth-century American picture postcards, 15 of which, all neatly reproduced, inspired the 15 gloriously imaginative and utterly hypnotizing short stories gathered here in a book destined to enrapture a broad readership. Butler also frames his marvelously diverse tales with bizarre little items from newspapers published on August 7, 1910, a year, as his stories reveal, notable for the appearance of Halley's comet and its overall transitiveness. Horses and buggies are still being used as people grow giddy over the first automobiles. Airplanes are novel and precarious. The Great War brews, suffragettes are active, and class distinctions blur. Death is a frequent visitor in these remarkably lucid, affecting, and unpredictable stories, but plucky women rule, from a spirited gal with a wooden leg to a radical Mexican laundress to a horse-loving South Dakotan to a mother who goes to the front to comfort her soldier son. Butler also conjures up tongue-tied yet adoring suitors, husbands, and fathers; an 87-year-old man who was born into slavery; a boy with a crush on a teacher; and a man who memorizes the Bible. Scintillating, soulful, and surprising, Butler's virtuoso stories are deeply satisfying. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

After years of collecting early 20th-century postcards, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain) takes 15 choice missives as inspiration for his latest volume of short stories an ambitious writing exercise that even in his assured hands yields mixed results. The stories range in tone and substance, from the humor of "The Ironworkers' Hayride," in which a man lusts for a sassy suffragette despite her wooden leg ("her mouth is a sweet painted butterfly"), to the melancholy of "Carl and I," about a woman who pines for her consumptive husband ("I breathe myself into my husband's life"). A few stories amount to little more than vignettes or reveries: in "No Chord of Music," a woman takes her husband's car for an empowering ride, and in "Sunday," an immigrant at Coney Island feels blessed to be in America. Other postcards trigger more fully realized stories. "Hurshel said he had the bible up by heart and was fixing to go preaching," reads the card Butler takes as his cue for "Up by Heart," a funny tale that addresses questions of faith and fundamentalism. "My dear gallie... am hugging my saddle horse. Best thing I have found in S.D. to hug," wrote a woman named Abba, inspiring Butler's poignant "Christmas 1910," which evokes the loneliness of a young woman homesteading on the Great Plains. Though many stories are as slight as the postcards themselves, the collection as a whole adds up to a thoughtful commentary on America at the dawn of a new century: while some Americans were buoyed by their confidence in technology and progress, others, at the mercy of a disease-ridden, hardscrabble existence, could trust only in their faith in God. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

These 15 stories by Pulitzer Prize winner Butler were inspired by messages on the early 20th-century postcards he collects. With a 22-city author tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Hotel Tourainep. 3
Mother in the Trenchesp. 19
The Ironworkers' Hayridep. 35
Carl and Ip. 59
This Is Earl Sandtp. 73
The One in Whitep. 93
No Chord of Musicp. 113
Christmas 1910p. 129
Hiram the Desperadop. 145
I Got Married to Milk Canp. 163
The Grottop. 179
Up by Heartp. 201
Uncle Andrewp. 231
Twinsp. 243