Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby Summary

Donald Barthelme


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story concerns the punishment of Colby Williams by his friends. Colby, it seems, has “gone too far”—when, how, and at what, the reader is not told. He readily admits that he has done this, claiming, however, that “going too far . . . was something everybody did sometimes.” His friends, an anonymous, all-male group, are unswayed by his reasoning and remain firm in their benevolent conviction that as his “dear friends” they have an obligation to punish him for his transgression by hanging him.

The hanging itself will be the climax of a gala social affair, and the bulk of the story centers on the arrangements that have to be made. Luckily, Colby’s friends are a cosmopolitan, multitalented group. They count among their ranks a conductor, an architect, people knowledgeable about printing and about the history of executions, environmental activists, and the owner of a car-and-truck rental business. Everyone’s talents are called on and everyone’s opinions are consulted, even Colby’s. The group is committed to bringing off the affair with éclat, and much of their discussion turns on setting the correctly festive tone for the event and making sure the day will be a success.

Colby shows his tendency to “go too far” when, graciously consulted about his preference for music for the occasion, he suggests Charles Ives’s Fourth Symphony, a gargantuan work that would “put [the friends] way over the music budget.”...

(The entire section is 574 words.)