Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Burroughs, Tell

In 1951, author William S Burroughs and his wife Joan were living in Mexico, trying to outrun a US statute of limitations on a marijuana possession charge. On September 7th they were visiting friends, drinking, when he announced, "it's time for our William Tell act." Joan balanced a glass of gin on her head. Burroughs took out his gun, aimed and shot. He missed the glass and shot his wife in the forehead, killing her almost instantly.

He spent less than two weeks in jail for the crime. Officials were bribed and he was released on bail. A ballistic expert, also bribed, was set to testify that the shooting was an accident, that Burroughs had been cleaning his gun. But his trial was delayed when his attorney himself killed someone and fled the country. Burroughs soon followed, traveling thru South American and then North Africa. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years, which was suspended.

I'm reminded of this story again after stumbling across the shortest novel ever written. I like music that lasts years, but admire concision in writing. In 2003 I contributed a piece to a book edited by Josh Thorpe called Very Short Stories, which required the writers tell their tale in one hundred characters or less. It's bested by Steve McCaffery's William Tell: A Novel. This work tells the story of the legend of William Tell, who was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head with a crossbow, or they would both face execution.

The story is told in a single character. Well, a single altered character - a conflation of the lowercase i and the colon.

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