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January 11th, 2007

In Cold Blood

But the gallows itself, with its two pale nooses attached to a crossbeam, was imposing enough; and so, in an unexpected style, was the hangman, who cast a long shadow from his perch on the platform at the top of the wooden instrument's thirteen steps. The hangman, an anonymous, leathery gentleman who had been imported from Missouri for the event, for which he was paid six hundred dollars, was attired in an aged double-breasted pin-striped suit overly commodious for the narrow figure inside it--the coat came nearly to his knees; and on his head he wore a cowboy hat which, when first bought, had perhaps been bright green, but was now a weathered, sweat stained oddity.


--In Cold Blood, Truman Capote.


It's the six hundred dollars of that description that really chills me.

Anyhow, as you might guess, I just finished Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and it was, I thought, quite magnificent. It has a middle section, where Perry Smith, one of the killers, is reading old letters that is tedious, but otherwise there's not a moment in the book where Capote doesn't hold your attention. What is most interesting about the book, however, is that for the most part, you think Capote is giving you an even handed, by the moment reconstruction of the murder of a family and what happens to the two killers after. He's true gift in the book is that he doesn't judge anyone involved: he never absolves Smith and Hickock for the killings, but at the same time, he doesn't take an easy option of portraying them as evil men who deserved to be hanged. Rather, the pair are damaged, both physically and mentally, and are side products of the environment that they have been born into. They are not the only products, Capote is quick to point out, using Smith's sister and Hickock's brother and family to show how people who grew up and existed in the same environments did not end up killing a family. Yet still, Capote walks an oddly sympathetic line for the pair, which at the same time, never says that they are not responsible and that they are not guilty.

It is, really, not until the last section, 'the Corner', so named because it is what inmates had nicknamed the gallows, that Capote's point of the novel begins to shape, and you see that what he is condemning is not the deaths of the family, not the killers, and not anyone else involved, but rather that he has, slowly and across three hundred pages, condemned executions.

Fascinating book.

26Lies Reviewed

26Lies has been reviewed at ASif:

26 Lies/1 Truth by Ben Peek is, among other things, a book about authorial fraud. Hardly surprising, then, that Peek uses the opportunity to commit a spot of authorial fraud himself. Or does he?

To be honest, I emerged from the book feeling somewhat dazed and exhausted (having read it from beginning to end within a 24 hour period), and I’m not entirely sure what I feel about it. Impressed, certainly. Curious, definitely. A little pissed off... well, maybe.

Let’s start with the basics. 26 Lies/1 Truth claims to be “the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody.” It is thickly detailed with the life history of Mr Ben Peek, taking in his relationships with family, friends, and developing writing career. Through a series of dialogues, it also reveals (piece by piece) the relationship between Peek and “G,” who may or may not be the one woman he claims to have loved. Indispersed with these character windows are occasional vignettes discussing a variety of the more famous literary hoaxes of history, covering pseudonyms, cultural appropriations, and some very recent literary outrages.

One idea which I felt was very strongly a part of the book, though never overtly stated, is that the measurable scandal or outrage caused by a literary hoax depends very much on what a person is pretending to be. An author of fiction who pretends to belong to a minority culture is seen as the devil incarnate, whereas someone who pretends to belong to a more privileged subgroup (at its simplest, a woman writer pretending to be a man) is sympathised with, and approved of. Ben Peek, a self-confessed white male English speaking Australian, can therefore not commit any kind of socially approved authorial fraud unless he finds someone more advantaged than himself whom he can pretend to be. The fraud that he chooses to portray, viewed through this light, becomes all the more fascinating.


It's all good. I couldn't have hoped for a more open, and giving, review. It's real cool.

My only disappointment, so far, with all the feedback I've got is that it's all about me, and there's not been some time spared for Anna Brown, the artist, and Andrew Macrae (andrewmacrae), who provided the cover, and Deb Layne (deborahlive), the publisher. But mostly, I do kind of wish that there will be some time spent for Anna, because it's her art that allows the book to work. She is the key to joining all the narratives together and, basically, what enables the book to be a novel. If you remove it, that whole trick is a lot more difficult than you could ever imagine. I know that kind of indy art style isn't for everyone, but I'm hoping in one of the reviews she'll get her due. That's not a critique of the above review, mind. That's just me wanting Anna to get what I think she deserves.

Books.

If anyone tries to convince you it's a one person show, they're lying.

Buy it from Amazon, buy it from Wheatland Press.

Aurealis Awards, Part Three.

Today, it's Fantasy: Lee Battersby, Stephanie Campisi, Margo Lanagan, Lucy Sussex, and Anna Tambour.

That sound you can hear in the background is Margo Lanagan, saying, "What do you mean 'three days'?"