“Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him.”
So begins Donald Barthelme’s short story. The narrator and his friends quite like Colby, but since the decision has been made to hang him, they must go through with it. Still, they wish to make it a classy affair – they will have music and drinks there.
Having never arranged a hanging before, the narrator and his friends struggle with some of the details: how do you build the gibbet? At an expense of four hundred dollars, should they just hang Colby from a tree instead? – it would make for a nice outdoor event.
In the end the plan goes off without a hitch. Colby is hung and it is a lovely occasion.
Donald Barthelme has a distinctive style in many of his stories. He starts with the statement of an absurd idea and works it through to its (il)logical conclusion. In one of his stories, cowboys herd three or four thousand porcupines. In another, the narrator purchases himself a city, complete with occupants, and goes about trying to manage it.
Barthelme’s stories are only short, and are often humorous. They are interesting to read and it is almost startling to read something that isn’t steeped in naturalism or realism. Chekov, Carver, Munro and dozens of others have almost pegged the short story as being reportage. Reading Barthelme’s stories can initially feel strange to a reader who expects grim reality and scenes of gritty, working class life. Yet, I cannot blame the New Yorker magazine for this influence, as they published many of Barthelme’s pieces.
I tend to only talk about stories on this blog that I like, and I certainly like this one. It only came in at around 2500 words, so it’s also a good one for people to study if they are entering any of the competitions that require small word counts.
Now, there seems to be a wonderful website, where a fan has managed to get permission from Barthelme’s family to publish some of his stories online, including the one I’ve chosen to write about.
Here is another, I recommend
And if you just can’t get enough of Barthelme’s work, go here.