"We must show the executioner's hands each time and force veryone to look at them...Otherwise society admits it kills without knowing what it is saying or doing.
Albert Camus' Meditations on the Guillotine
In fascinating detail Ivan Solotaroff introduces us to men who carry out executions and their experience doing it. Although the emphasis is on the personal lives of these men and those that they have put to death, the book also addresses some of the deeper issues of the death penalty and connects the veiled, elusive figure of the executioner to that vast majority of Americans who have claimed to support executions since 1977: Why do we do it? Or more exactly, Why do we want to?
The Last Face You'll Ever See is not about the polarizing issues of the death penaltyit is a first-hand report about the culture of executions: the executioners, the death row inmates, and everyone involved in the act. An engrossing, unsettling, and provocative book, this work will forever affect anyone who reads it.
This look at America's executioners and their victims is a combination of cinema v?rit? (think of Errol Morris's disturbing, and similarly disappointing, documentary, Mr. Death) and morbid fascination: "I wanted to know who carried out executions," and more specifically why they do it. Thus immersed in this "peculiar institution" for the last six years, Solotaroff (No Success Like Failure) brings readers on a discomfiting tour of the Death Belt, the statistical concentration of death-penalty states from Texas to Florida. Depicting ironically pleasant last meals with retarded convicts, the creepy antics of the death-house guards, and threats of possible innocents sent to their doom, Solotaroff specifically seeks not to illuminate the ongoing moral dialogue, but rather to examine the living complexities of executioners and the condemned, a relationship he oddly reveres as a kind of marriage although the metaphor is eventually abandoned in light of a cruel and imperfect bureaucracy. Readers visit death rows, hang out with executioners and meet the condemned, but the people along the way are alienated and alienating, and readers must remind themselves they are human beings. More problematic is that Solotaroff dodges the moral quagmire (claiming he embarked on this project out of "curiosity"), leaving the ethical responsibilities of his writing in a decidedly gray place. This is a well-written and readable book but an inadequate consideration of an important and timely subject. (Sept.) Forecast: Interest in the death penalty has increased in the wake of Timothy McVeigh's execution, and will be in the spotlight when Legal Lynching by Jesse Jackson Sr. and Jesse Jackson Jr. comes out in October,so sales of this might be buoyed by that book's wake. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.