Ensiform's Reviews > The Autobiography of an Execution

The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
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Jul 07, 14

bookshelves: justice, non-fiction
Read in March, 2011

The author, a death-penalty defense lawyer in Texas, discusses some of his cases (with identifying details removed) and all their nail-biting, guilt-inducing, soul-crushing drama and tragedy. He mentions several cases as once, but most of the book centers on the case of a man he calls Quaker, who got a sickeningly unfair deal at his first trial and who seems innocent based on the evidence Dow has. Undeniably driven to do this work, and justifiably angry at what he perceives as uncaring, blatantly unfair, and hypocritical judges who sign death orders from afar, he is plagued by nightmares and sometimes overly harsh with his young son. He depicts his home life, with his wife whom he adores and his five-year-old, as a refuge, but one that too often is violated by the on-call nature of his work.

It makes for truly compelling reading, as Dow tells it, giving a vain scintilla of hope to the hopeless and mostly forsaken, only to deliver disappointment, and be disappointed, time and again. Dow tries at times too hard to be the poet, eschewing quotation marks, postmodern hipster style, and possibly infusing his son’s comments about life and cruelty with more weight than they truly carry. And at times he is in need of an editor, often dropping a subject and referring to a previous subject with an “it” or “he” so that it’s not clear whom he’s referring to. And perhaps an editor would have convinced Dow tone down the "women sure do hit on clueless ol’ me a lot" bits that only serve to make him look self-aggrandizing or wallowing in false modesty or both. He mentions in his afterword that a previous book of his was reviewed by a critic who said it had a lot of facts but nothing of him in it. Of course, everyone’s tolerance for authorial ego varies, and yes, I understand that he was trying to show the delicate balance defense attorneys must carve out to stay sane, but frankly I wish there had been less of Dow in this one, and more on the nuts and bolts of his late nights futilely trying to save the unsympathetic.
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message 1: by Jan (new)

Jan I cannot imagine a more difficult or dispiriting job than a death penalty defense attorney in Texas.

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