Wednesday, August 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro, excerpt seven)

from Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro:

While we continued talking, I leafed through it. I was caught by a paragraph near the beginning: “Reader, I don’t know if my story is to your liking, writing nonfiction is hard, I had no schooling, please excuse my spelling and grammar, but I had to write this book, to leave it to my family, when I go beyond, my time is running short, and I want to finish without adding or subtracting parts that are false, or invented by my imagination, no, everything has to be exactly the way it happened.” At another point, he had written, “I am running short of time, feel sick and tired, but…before I go beyond this world, I had to tell the truth.” He had written it, he said “exactly the way it happened” because he felt he had played a crucial role in history—“We put LB Johnson as senator for Texas, and this position opened the road to reach the Presidency”—and he wanted it to be acknowledged. And there were other lines that leapt out. After he shot the man in Durango, he fled, and for years, he wrote, “I was to become the wandering Jew,” until he met George Parr, who gave him the badge of a deputy sheriff and money and prestige, and “My life changed with the power invested in me.” But most of all what leapt out were the details of the election night; as I read I realized that he was confirming the truth of everything other officials had said on the stand—things that he had, in 1948, denied, and that, because of his denial, had remained shrouded in uncertainty for the almost four decades since; that his manuscript answered all the questions that had been unanswered: why, for example, during vote-altering done six days after the election, in addition to the two hundred extra votes for Johnson, Stevenson had been given two extra votes: he himself had not wanted to write down the names of the two hundred additional voters, Salas explained in the manuscript; “I did not want them in my handwriting,” and instead had had one of his deputy election judges, Ignacio (Nachito) Escobar, do it, and “Nachito was a jolly man, full of jokes, he said, let us give this poor man [Stevenson] a pil√≥n [gift].” As I leafed through the manuscript, I realized that Salas’ confession—for that was what it was: a confession—solved all the mysteries that for so long had surrounded the election. “The people have a good reason not to believe what I wrote,” he said in his manuscript. “The reason is that I lied under oath.” Thanks to that manuscript, it would not be necessary for me, Robert Caro, to write, “No one will ever be sure if Lyndon Johnson stole it.” He stole it.

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