Every month, it's a struggle not to pick up True Story and immediately begin reading as soon as the new issue arrives at the office. As a fan of both the little, single-author nonfiction magazine and true crime, Issue 7 reeled me in and refused to let go. I had to read the first few pages at my desk. While not for the faint of heart, Andrew Maynard deftly balances fact and feeling in this issue’s timely story "Take Your Son to Work Day.”
Before we even meet Maynard, we’re briefly introduced to nine-year-old Jennifer Wilson. While on family vacation in 1988, Wilson is abducted, assaulted, and murdered. The main suspect is Richard Bible, who is arrested, convicted with assorted supporting evidence, and then sentenced to death. Sitting on death row for twenty years, this is where Maynard comes in: “When I met [Bible], he was running out of appeals and time.” Just like that, we have a way in, a way to connect to a story and a man that could (and rightfully so) repulse and repel.
Maynard’s father, Daniel, is Bible’s attorney, the man tasked with keeping Bible from execution. While Bible may be the introduction to this father/son relationship, Maynard soon delves deeper than the surface story. We are given a backstage view of Maynard’s relationship with his father. When introduced, Daniel Maynard is portrayed as the complete opposite of his son. Where Andrew is sloppy, Daniel is put together and professional. Where Andrew is awkward and unsure, Daniel is confident and comfortable. Later, Maynard takes us back in time to his teenage years, his horrible decisions, and his father’s refusal to give up on him despite these decisions—the same attitude that keeps him from giving up on Richard Bible. Later still, he shows us the parallels between accompanying his father to visit with Bible and his childhood “take your son to work day” visit, demonstrating the ways his view of his father has melded and evolved over the years.
Maynard skillfully jumps between and weaves together time periods, while never losing readers, instead strengthening the connection with each new section. Bible is removed from us, but Maynard makes us care, and Maynard’s relationship with his father is intimate and complex, yet he still welcomes us in to learn more and understand.
This issue arrived in mailboxes while Arkansas still peppered headlines. At the beginning of April, there were eight inmates scheduled to be executed in eleven days as the drug used for executions neared its expiration date. Toward the end of “Take Your Son to Work Day,” Richard Bible is put to death (this occurred in 2011), the 27th murderer executed in the state of Arizona. Maynard admits, “I believe Bible deserves to die,” but then he follows up with, “And yet, I don’t want Bible to die, though I’m not totally sure why. [ . . . ] Maybe it’s because I’ve met Bible. He is a human being after all. But is humanity enough?” Maynard lets us consider this ourselves, admitting that in the courtroom in the face of those making the decision to take a man’s life, he “can’t form a single coherent thought.”
Daniel Maynard ends up being the only witness there for Bible at the end of his life—not against him. Even as Bible dies, Daniel looks out for him, giving him a code to signify whether or not he was mistreated before death. Knowing all the evidence against his client, he still believes Bible deserves dignity in his final moments. Again, Daniel demonstrates his inability to give up on people. Just as he continued to be there for his son during turbulent years, he stands by Bible. After the execution, Daniel is tired, though. Even as Maynard builds him up throughout the issue, we see he’s just a man who doesn’t always “win,” who doesn’t always have the answers, but who’s there for those who depend on him just the same.
I would urge readers to hurry over to the Creative Nonfiction website to grab this timely issue of True Story, but they’re better off subscribing for a full year. Each issue of True Story is as interesting as the last, the writers featured truly deserving of the single-author showcase.