Mr. Spaceman has sprung from one of the funniest and most poignant stories in Butler's last collection, Tabloid Dreams. In Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover, lonely Edna Bradshaw told of falling in love with Desi, an alien being, in the parking lot of an Alabama Wal-Mart. Now Butler has picked up Desi and Edna's story at a later point. Married and hovering above the earth at the end of the year 2000, they're entertaining an entire busload of Texans bound for a Louisiana casino. Desi has beamed both bus and passengers up to his spaceship so he can continue his research into the nature of human beings.

This is to prepare him to reveal himself and his spaceship to earth media on New Year's Eve. With down-home hospitality, Edna offers cheese straws and sausage balls to the abducted bus passengers who can't help noticing Desi's eight fingers on each hand, all ending in little sucker disks. But he's simple and wise by turns, lacing his conversation with earthly advertising slogans and song titles.

I'm a friendly guy, he says. There Is a Kind of Hush All Over the World Tonight. I Would Like to Teach the World to Sing. I Would Like to Buy the World a Coke. Eventually Desi learns the life stories of individual passengers through his empathic powers. Though these often moving monologues from the heart compose a kind of cross-section of American humanity, many have the familiar ring of characters met too often in recent fiction. None is as engaging or original as Desi himself. His visit to an American supermarket, dressed in zoot suit and hat, is one of the most hilarious scenes in the book. Butler's blend of humor and insight, along with his ability to examine the human condition, is on display here, as it was in Tabloid Dreams and Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. Mr.

Spaceman is a tour de force, a flight of fancy which lands in the heart.

James William Brown is the author of Blood Dance (Harcourt Brace). He teaches fiction writing in Boston.

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