Execute the Office: Essays with Presidents

Colin Rafferty’s Execute the Office uses lyric prose and formal invention to explore the humanity, or lack thereof, that thrived in each of the forty-five American presidents. Whether these powerful individuals were celebrated for infamous deeds and heroism, or forgotten as placeholders in the annals of American history, too often presidents are commemorated by the sterility of simple fact. Execute the Office builds upon factual accuracy with essays that are equally invested in lyrical writing and experimental forms. To balance these factions, Execute the Office uses constraint, metaphor, allusion, and epiphany to explore not just the facts and artifacts of history, but describe the connections between those facts and human nature in thought-provoking and inventive ways. These essays discuss the modes in which we remember. Through death songs, footnotes, infinite rooms, evacuation routes, and nomenclatures, to name a few examples, these diverse essays engage with history from fresh perspectives. Execute the Office contains histories in and of unusual objects. While unfamiliar at first, they soon become distinct, unforgettable, profound, human.

“I was afraid ‘curation’ might now be dead to us, its potency to mean, to arrange compelling presentations, to animate the residue of fact (things done) rendered ruined, meaningless by too ready-to-use overuse. But here is Colin Rafferty’s Execute the Office reviving the valence of curation, a compilation of exquisite formalistic but not formulaic essays, cataloguing America’s forty-five chief executives. Rafferty returns the Muse to the museum, a dioramic taxidermist of prose, posing each exhibit in its unique hide from head to toe-note. Curator sublime, Rafferty’s collection of brief lives cure as they brine and pickle, adding taste and flavor as they preserve what’s alive in all this death. These essays, lyric sutures, heal, too, as they heel history (selected perceptions and precise amplifications), bringing every president, even the living ones, back to life.” Michael Martone, author of The Moon Over Wapakoneta and Brooding

“Colin Rafferty’s Execute the Office is smart, compelling, and gloriously inventive. Rafferty reminds us that history is made of people as much as events, and the men who’ve brightened or darkened the American Presidency are flawed and fascinating, majestic (sometimes) and mercurial. A sure-footed and splendid history lesson.” Dinty Moore, author of To Hell with It

“Writes Colin Rafferty at the outset of his newest book of nonfiction, Execute the Office, ‘To dance the minuet, the reel, you have to know the steps. In America, we are always rediscovering the steps of the dance, trying to recreate it from the remnants we can find in our soil.’ Those human remnants sing in these essays, as we learn about Millard Fillmore’s graceful handwriting; about the tragedy of Franklin Pierce’s life, told in the form of an ongoing medical chart; about the rows of stitches, sewn XXXX, by tailor Andrew Johnson. The details add up to a larger vision of the price that good government requires of us all. A military warehouse full of medals in boxes, waiting for recipients or survivors. As Rafferty muses, Johnson’s ‘legacy [is] a reminder that this country’s lie—anyone can be president—means that the wrong person can become president.’ And will leave a mark, for better or for worse, on the ongoing path we tread together.” Joni Tevis, author of The World Is on Fire

“In the striking essays of Execute the Office, Colin Rafferty reconciles the office of the presidency with the men who’ve held it . . . Execute the Office illuminates the human beings who’ve occupied the Oval Office, showing the reach of each of their decisions.”  Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, Foreword Reviews, January / February 2021

Execute the Office works because no one is lionized. The reader is left with the dissonant chords of America’s contradictions ringing in their ears. The prose does not explain or justify, but it does dance.” Susannah Clark, Brevity’s Non-Fiction Blog, February 2021

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