Some Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby by Donald Barthelme, 1973
The magic trick:
Making most of the story realistic and mundane except one for one detail: everything
B is for Barthelme.
The second sentence gives it away. “And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him.” Ah, OK. So this is gonna be a little strange.
Barthelme is so good at creating that feeling of the mundane weird. It’s brilliantly executed (pardon the pun) here, with the narrator and his crew stumbling over attempts at teamwork. It’s a perfect parody of white-collar, red-tape committee nonsense.
And that’s quite a trick on Barthelme’s part.
Hugh was worried about the wording of the invitations. What if one of them fell into the hands of the authorities? Hanging Colby was doubtless against the law, and if the authorities learned in advance what the plan was they would very likely come in and try to mess everything up. I said that although hanging Colby was almost certainly against the law, we had a perfect moral right to do so because he was our friend, belonged to us in various important senses, and he had after all gone too far. We agreed that the invitations would be worded in such a way that the person invited could not know for sure what he was being invited to. We decided to refer to the event as “An Event Involving Mr. Colby Williams.” A handsome script was selected from a catalogue and we picked a cream-colored paper. Magnus said he’d see to having the invitations printed, and wondered whether we should serve drinks. Colby said he thought drinks would be nice but was worried about the expense. We told him kindly that the expense didn’t matter, that we were after all his dear friends and if a group of his dear friends couldn’t get together and do the thing with a little bit of eclat, why, what was the world coming to? Colby asked if he would be able to have drinks, too, before the event. We said, “Certainly.”
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