Robert Olen Butler Official Website Robert Olen Buter – Perfume River

Perfume River


He can only see Jimmy and Pops. They’re shouting at each other. Likely they’re in the kitchen, because Mom walks out, brushing past Robert. He should follow her. But he doesn’t. He stays, though for a long while only in body. He tunes out the words, as Jimmy is drawn by his father into the politspeak he said he despises. High-decibel politspeak that goes on and on. Until abruptly the voices cease. For a moment the room rings with silence. Robert takes notice. Jimmy and Pops are standing close, facing each other. And then Jimmy begins to speak, but softly. Robert listens. He misses some of the words, but he gets the gist. It’s about a murderous war. It’s about those who defy their country. Then Jimmy’s voice rises and Robert hears clearly: “Those are the real heroes.” And William raises his right hand and slaps his son across the face. Jimmy’s face jerks away from Robert’s view. The gesture has been flash-powder fast and William’s hand has vanished. Robert’s mind is lagging way behind. He saw what happened, recognized it. But Jimmy has quickly brought his face back to his father’s, and for a moment Robert doubts his senses, wonders if he saw correctly. For all his bluster and working-class manliness, Pops has almost never used his hands on his sons. And it happens again. Robert sees a movement at William’s left shoulder and hears a sharp sound and Jimmy’s face jerks this way, showing itself to Robert. Pops has struck him with his other hand, and he barks a single word: “Cowards.”

Pre-Pub Reviews

“What I so like about Perfume River is its plainly-put elegance. Enough time has passed since Viet Nam that its grave human lessons and heartbreaks can be—with a measure of genius—almost simply stated. Butler’s novel is a model for this heartbreaking simplicity and grace.”
—Richard Ford








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