Talking in the dark and building up truth out of desires, hopes and a big fuck you to everything else life, for one. Too long in prison of loneliness. But they were so much the same in the playing chicken in that staring contest and the truth coming back that I can't help feel that some of it was a kind of love. The pictures might have some auras of bad spirits around them. All of the bullets from all of the firing squads in Utah wouldn't penetrate the bad feelings, the build-up and frustration. Impatience for something to happen. I think it made sense that Gilmore did any of the things he did.
It was that keeping things away like a pee dance to ward off evil. It wasn't that he was stupid and didn't know where he'd end up. He would get tired and would want to die. I didn't need to read the book or know anything about Gary Gilmore to understand why he wanted to die. It wasn't guilt. Self-hate that has more to do with how you feel about yourself than what others feel about you. I think that it was slithering towards the light at the end of the tunnel and the worm is blind and can't see which way out of the picture. If ghosts are created in the atmosphere when something really horrific happens in a spiritual kind of sense like Star Wars when all of the voices cried out together after they snuffed it at the long hands of the empire I think maybe it is like worm holes are created in whatever living and breathing sense there might be of morality, spirituality and humanity.
Worm holes for putting a fourteen year old kid in prison Gilmore was not born a murderer and keeping him there. Or their "innocent" high school hijinks of fake ids happened post when having a fake id is a federal crime? Mandatory sentences, making an example of someone. Worm holes that are bigger than the world. Could you slither out? I tend to get depressed and stew in hopelessness more than getting angry but that one really does me. When people don't care about stuff like that. Worm holes that they used a firing squad because they wanted blood shed. Worm holes of punishing a family the ending of Gary's mom Bessie sitting at her window despite death threats, maybe because of like a dare, from the public Worm holes of Gary's trying to control Nicole and all of the young girls who wrote to him in prison because he was just the neatest thing since government cheese or the invention of tampons.
A LOT of young women were attracted to him. They were like Nicole loving what they couldn't love about themselves in another person blind and slitheringly lost. Worm holes of abuse begetting more abuse. How does it fix society to lock away and forget until its time to bounce more bullet holes off the bad spirits? Whether one believes that they have long underwear protecting them in their lives, or reincarnation like Gilmore believed, I think that Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song does deserve to be a classic grumble. For the pictures, and the staring and the chicken and the trust game when you don't know if someone even caught you, and telling the truth.
The lights are still burning. Worm holes don't go away if you remain blind. If I were to listen as well as burn my retinas I'd hear Stewart Copeland there rocking the short shorts and the drums. It's skins to skin. Andy Summers has one eye on Sting's leanings towards sentimentality someone removed his stinger! Probably fell off after hours of tantric sex and the other on his pocket where Robert Fripp's phone number is safely tucked away. I couldn't stand another hour of daylight. I'd listen to The Police's song about Gilmore in the dark when I was a thirteen year old fan I had the videos, the books.
My first concert, my first tape, my first cd, my first record. I wanted to die too. I'd try to stay awake as long as possible because at night I could finally be alone. If it weren't for Sting I'd not have discovered Dennis Potter either. That was another branch of sky reaching beauty on my ugly tree with roots in the down and dirty of bad taste. I was with Andy!
We hated the sap! Does this make you laugh? One of Gilmore's favorite stories is about giving Fungoo the kinda retarded and retardedly trusting inmate a tattoo on the back of his neck. The tattoo is of a penis. Fungoo comes back upset because his parents are coming to visit and could Gary please change it to a snake or something. He doesn't trust anyone else to do it. Gary makes it a three headed penis. He couldn't resist.
I laughed. Maybe that's why I liked this book so much. It's the dark parts of yourself you hope no one hears loneliness of bad spirits and hoping to live another day I loved it because it didn't pretend. It's why I kinda love Nicole, bad parts and all. Pictures tell a story they don't capture the soul into one thing. Tommy Lee Jones wrinkled like a hounddog Damn, no I haven't seen this yet. It's on netflix streaming so soon. I'm sad to have finished this book!
But I doubt the movie is this good. It will probably be the self serving mirror image and not the daring to show yourself kinda mirror staring. View all 32 comments. Apr 13, rachel rated it it was amazing Shelves: social-justice , criminals-or-tremendous-creepers , wild-wild-west , , you-are-my-love , this-is-america , heartbreakers. There is a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, about racial and class injustice in the prison system, that asks what I have come to realize is the hardest and most important question about capital punishment. It is not "does a guilty criminal deserve to die?
This is a basic and obvious question, but it seems to take a backseat to the first question in discussions about the death penalty. The argument over capital punishment is as much or more gut driven as i There is a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, about racial and class injustice in the prison system, that asks what I have come to realize is the hardest and most important question about capital punishment.
The argument over capital punishment is as much or more gut driven as it is reasoned. Having read this book, working for the government, seeing bureaucracy in motion, I have to say that I have little faith in the state's objectivity, its ability to decide a man's life. Many elements of the Gilmore execution are horrifying. And I used to be pro death penalty, before I read about it in practice, because I believe that people like Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and Tiny Davis have perpetrated some true evil and should permanently lose their freedom. But, do we have the right to kill them -- as the anti-death penalty coalition in this book asks--to show that killing is wrong?
I don't know. Anything but a "yes, absolutely" answer to that question is a working "no. As far as the justice served, I don't understand how killing someone especially one, two, multiple years after the crime is supposed to assuage anything for the victim's family. So, the book. It's hopeless and profoundly depressing, not just in Gary's death but in the lives of its main characters.
They are married and divorced way too young, sexually violated, mentally ill, chronically poor. For the first third of the book, Gary's let out of prison on robbery charges, goes to live with relatives who put faith in his rehabilitation and try to set him up with jobs and a place to live.
Then he meets this girl, Nicole. She's something like 15 years younger than him. They have this obsessive, mostly sexual relationship and then she leaves him and he kills a couple people "to keep from killing [her]. A great chunk of the book is the sexy, misspelled, uncannily teenage love letters they write back and forth. You see why it's such a marketable story, why media outlets competed hard for the rights to it.
Oh yeah -- a good portion of the book is about the media too. It is the least interesting part of the book, unless you like watching people with tragic lives get further exploited. The Executioner's Song is a feat. It is not pleasant but it is an overlook to the way some people's real lives happen to work out, by luck, decision or both.
Mailer's writing lacks that technicolor sensation of fictionalized accounts of real people; it is a long drive on a scenery free road on an overcast day, no neatly packaged endings with grand lessons learned but a fade away. Some exasperation. I do wonder what Nicole Baker is up to today, how frequently she thinks of Gary still. She compels me, just as she compelled everyone else. View all 12 comments. May 22, Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it it was amazing Shelves: literature , actuals-n-factuals , usa.
Finished after three years and three copies. Totally worth the thousand pages of time, even with all the gaps and hassle. Jul 05, K. Absolutely rated it liked it Recommended to K. Shelves: crime , long-read , pulitzer , , prison-drama , non-fiction. Long read. This is Norman Mailer's answer to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood that was published in and started a new literary classification called non-fiction novels.
I read this with a lawyer as a reading buddy. We spent 14 days 1 day per part. Here is the discussion thread containing our daily thoughts. Sorry if some of the phrases are in Filipino. Gary Mark Gilmore Long read. Gary Mark Gilmore had spent half of his life in jail when he was paroled crime: robbery in at the age of He tried all sort of jobs while living with his uncle Vern Domico. However, as his cousin Brenda commented when Gilmore encountered all sorts of many problems while working, "he was locked up when he was supposed to be learning about how to earn a decent living.
When Nicole left him, Gilmore killed Nicole's new boyfriend then afterwards, on the same night, killed a man he had not even met before. This somehow summarizes the first half of the book. I liked the story because of its readability, its call for a reform in the US penal laws in fact according to Wiki, this case triggered a nationwide debate on death penalty upon this book's release and Mailer's crystal clear and emphatic characterizations. Had the book ended here, it would have gotten 4 stars from me. The second half of the book is not as effective as the first half.
It tells, basically, the aftermath of Gilmore's conviction: death. A big part of this second half is spent on negotiations for the film right to turn Gilmore's life into a movie, the repeated appeal the Stay resulting to several postponements of the execution and the eternal love between Gary Gilmore and Nicole that reminded me of Romeo and Juliet because at one point, they both took drugs as they attempted a double suicide. Aside from the last one and Gilmore's interactions with his family, his mother Bessie and his youngest brother Mikal half of the book is utterly boring.
Not only it is anti-climactic but it is too detailed on things that I am not interesting for me. My interest only got up again when Gilmore was finally killed but that was only discussed in the last two parts and they were not able to bring back the emotional impact that this book was able to do in its first half.
Overall, a good book to know how the legal criminal system in the US worked in the 70s. Compared to our here in the Philippines, my reading buddy explained to me that they have a jury system there and the judge's role is just that of a facilitator. There is also this legal procedure called Next Friend. She also refresh my mind on the meaning of Writs of Mandamus and Certiorari. Two writs that were repeatedly mentioned in the second half. Prior to this book, I used to be unaffected whenever I heard people getting death penalty.
Example was when Leo Echagaray was executed by lethal injection here in the Philippines after 23 years that the death penalty was removed from the Philippine law. When he was executed, I told myself: What kind of father is he? He raped his own daughter so he deserves death. It's was very easy for me to say that. Now, I would not be very quick to say so. View all 11 comments. Sep 30, Steven Walle rated it it was amazing. Gary was a thief from the beginning and served over half his life in prison.
Coming out of prison as a thirtyfive year old man, not knowing how to work, cary on relationships, or do any of the day to day tasks we all face, Gary kills two people. This decision gets him the firing squad in Utah. While he is on death row many family members and lawers as well as the press are trying to stay the execution which was much against Gary's wishes.
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He thought that getting executed would earn him absolution. He attempts, with his lover Nicole, to commit suicide twice to no avail. I recommend everyone reads this book. O and by the way it is a true story. Enjoy and Be Blessed. Mind numbingly good. An intellectual grand slam! View 2 comments. Jan 09, gaby rated it really liked it Recommends it for: lovers of lovers, epics, convicts, murder, and the hollywood exploitation of it all. Shelves: crime , new-journalism , biography , nonfiction.
I can't resist the deliciously apparent metaphor provided by the circumstance that it took me pretty much exactly from Christmas to Easter to read this epic, page book about the life and death of Gary Gilmore. I've only read one longer book in my life, The Glass Bead Game, which was so good it took less than a week to read. Obviously, this book wasn't in the same league. But it was much better than expected, since I'd otherwise been nursing a nascent hatred of Mailer initially sp I can't resist the deliciously apparent metaphor provided by the circumstance that it took me pretty much exactly from Christmas to Easter to read this epic, page book about the life and death of Gary Gilmore.
But it was much better than expected, since I'd otherwise been nursing a nascent hatred of Mailer initially spawned by my dissatisfaction with the wretched Armies of the Night. I figured I'd give him another shot though, I mean, people fucking worship Mailer. And indeed, The Executioner's Song was well played and well deserving of that honor. The book is actually broken into two separate books - the first is, at its core, an intact and insulated lovestory set in rural Utah between a recently-sprung life-long convict and his new lady love.
The first book never hints at a larger world -- it is a completely zoomed-in microcosm that never really roams farther than a couple of blocks of a single small town. There's a small cast, and the reader feels a sense of security in the smallness of the story, and the finite boundaries of its physical and emotional domains. The second book is an instant and complete paradigm shift. It zooms out on the first paragraph from small-town Utah to the broader country and watches the firestorms that are set off when Gilmore refuses to appeal his death sentence after being tried for murders to which he admits.
Extremely suddenly, the sense of nearly idyllic security provided by having just read pages about 4 or 5 people in a single town is exploded by the introduction of all of the big-time journalists Geraldo Rivera, Barbara Walters , politicians the Supreme Court, the president , Hollywood producers big names in the 70's, though lost on me today , and celebrities when Johnny Cash calls, Gilmore says, "Is this the real Johnny Cash?
Oh yeah? Well this is the real Gary Gilmore! It was a nerdy delight to discover that much of the second book is really an exercise in the minutae of civil and criminal procedure in the federal courts, as Gilmore's lawyers wrangled with the ACLU and other civil rights groups for Gilmore's "right to die. From a legal standpoint, it was a mess of tangled and conflicting jurisprudence, and everyone from the local magistrate in Provo to the District Court to the Tenth Circuit to the Supreme Court weighed in - numerous times!
This was Mailer's response, and if you're going to take on In Cold Blood, it might as well be pages. But I was wrong.
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- The Executioner's Song;
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This book does a whole lot more - it encapsulates In Cold Blood, in a sense. It tells that story - a small town rocked by murders, and the boys who done it, and the execution. But Mailer tells the other story too, and it turns out to be just as compelling - the legal wrangling, the movie deals, the fancy New York lawyers who fly in with the contracts, the Hollywood bigwigs who move in for the kill literally, into the TraveLodge by the prison. In good conscience I can recommend this book without reservation.
But, it IS pages When will this "New Journalism" streak end????? View all 14 comments. Jun 14, L. I have heard it said that Norman Mailer is inconsistent within novels, whereas ordinary writers are inconsistent novel to novel. I have always found this true when reading his books. He was a prolific all-American novelist, who repeatedly tried to write The Great American novel, and experimented with form and content. His first so-called great work was The Naked and the Dead, still infamous, which I found by turns inspired and unconscionable.
Good luck trying to fix Mailer's moral standpoint in I have heard it said that Norman Mailer is inconsistent within novels, whereas ordinary writers are inconsistent novel to novel. Good luck trying to fix Mailer's moral standpoint in either of these novels. Like that first pager, The Executioner's Song is even more ambitious but recounts the vicissitudes of Gary Gilmore, of all people.
I'll be honest. I thought this was one of the greatest books I'd ever read for around pages. Over time I awoke to the realization that it was a flawed masterpiece, and finally, after hundreds of pages more, I lost nearly all my enthusiasm for it, not to mention that the word 'masterpiece' had begun to feel like a wildly inappropriate appellation. The length is exhaustive, and the details verge on minutiae. You might rate him five stars simply for how much research and legwork he did.
But you should still take the book with a grain of salt, since it is technically fiction. By labeling it so, Mailer could have taken any number of liberties with the facts. He was famous for erecting these Mount Rushmore-like tomes out of endlessly compiled research. There are moving moments, but on the whole it is spread too thin to be moving. It has brilliant moments, but they are sprinkled throughout mundanity and wacko segments of unexplainably detailed sex and heavy-handed commentary.
Gary Gilmore, as expected, is a difficult fellow to sympathize with by the end, though you might have admired him for gumption and charisma, until you really get to know him. Mailer writes about him as he would a close friend, but Mailer's own lack of squeamishness really turns me off. The same thing happened when I read Ancient Evenings, which might be my favorite novel of his so far, where you can tell after a while he is padding the narrative with the kinds of scenes he really likes to write.
Read enough of it, and you get an icky feeling in the pit of your stomach. You picked the book up for the sake of intellectual investigation, for history, but the history is not the focus of half of the writing. Executioner's Song, on the other hand, is a brilliant character study in its own right, even if the focus and writing is uneven. Are some people incurable? Is America's justice system moral? What justifications can be given for the 'insanity defense? Regardless of its mind-numbing length and pompous pretenses, it is an important testament by an overblown, but talented American writer.
Jun 25, Kara rated it did not like it. This book is a total slog. The Goodreads description calls it meticulous; I call it boring. As a subject, Gilmore just isn't that interesting. One of the journalists suggests that Gilmore is "mediocrity enlarged by history," and that pretty much sums it up.
The Executioner's Song
He was a m This book is a total slog. He was a mediocre criminal and an awful human being. Had he ended up with life in prison, rather than a death sentence, no one would written ten words about him. I can't believe this won a Pulitzer. Dec 10, Jason Pettus rated it liked it. Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.
I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally. The CCLaP In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called literary classics, then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label Essay The Executioner's Song , by Norman Mailer The story in a nutshell: One of the last great hurrahs from the so-called "New Journalism" of the coun Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter. The CCLaP In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called literary classics, then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label Essay The Executioner's Song , by Norman Mailer The story in a nutshell: One of the last great hurrahs from the so-called "New Journalism" of the countercultural years but more on that in a bit , this book purports to be a "true-life novel," telling in a sweeping and narrative way the tale of Gary Gilmore, who just a few years previously had become the first person executed in the US since the Supreme Court's lifting of the ban that had lasted over a decade, at the time a hotly contested political issue that galvanized anti-death-penalty advocates.
As such, then, the thousand-page manuscript is split into two parts: in "Western Stories," we get the tale of Gilmore himself, the murders that sent him to jail, and in general just the kind of rough-and-tumble life he was leading back in early-'70s Utah where these events took place; while in "Eastern Stories," we get an exhaustively detailed guide to the actual trial, as well as all the machinations that came with him becoming a cause celebre including a last-minute phone call from Johnny Cash right before his death, as well as one of history's first media frenzies over securing a criminal's story rights.
The argument for it being a classic: Well, for starters, say its fans, this won the Pulitzer Prize, and was also easily the biggest commercial hit of Mailer's entire oeuvre; but this is just a deserving capper, they argue, to the long career of a fascinating writer, one who with a handful of others almost singlehandedly changed the way we now think of journalism. Thompson is considered a pioneer of what's called the "New Journalism" of the s and '70s, a more engaging style of truth-reporting that enfolds not only the "facts" but also the metafictional elements surrounding those facts, like for example the journalist's own life and biases, and how their report actively changes the events they're reporting on.
After all, Mailer was one of the founders of the now revered Village Voice , which virtually created the blueprint for all the alternative urban arts-and-culture weeklies that came after, as well as the habit of all of them to center each issue around a lengthy piece of hard-hitting investigative journalism regarding a left-leaning social issue. Love it or hate it, there had never been anything quite like The Executioner's Song before Mailer sat down and actually wrote it, a subtly seminal book that has had a much bigger impact on the nonfiction pieces of the '80s, '90s and '00s than most people even realize.
The argument against: As is the case with many contentious classics, critics of this book use pretty much the same facts cited by its fans but to posit the exact opposite argument -- that the main reason this won the Pulitzer was to celebrate Norman Mailer being Norman Mailer, and that the entire "New Journalism" movement is in reality an embarrassing excuse for a bunch of arrogant blowhard males and they're always males to stroke their own massive egos.
And indeed, no matter what you think of this argument, there's definitely some objective truth to back it up; it's hard to deny, for example, that the second half of this book is not so much about Gilmore himself as it is Hollywood producer Lawrence Schiller, the opportunist who did most of the wheeling and dealing to secure Gilmore's story rights in the first place, and who actually conducted the vast majority of the interviews that Mailer based his book on. A padded, badly written doorstop of a book that simply confirms the author's obsession with grunting, violent misogynists, critics argue that the only reason The Executioner's Song gained any notoriety in the first place is because it's so big, tackled an issue that at the time was so trendy, and was written by Mailer during the height of his public infamy; and as soon as these three elements are forgotten, so too will this book quickly recede into obscurity, which critics claim you're already starting to see happen these days, just thirty years after the book's initial publication.
But as history teaches us, it is these self-referential "meta-celebrities" who are the quickest to be forgotten by posterity, and frankly I doubt that Mailer is going to be anything but a scholarly footnote by this point even fifty years from now; and so that makes it quite interesting to read one of his best-known books at this particular moment in history, when public goodwill for Mailer is currently at one of its highest points he died just three years before I'm writing this, long enough for his canonization by fans to have begun , because undoubtedly both he and his work will be looked at in an entirely different way in just another generation or two from now.
And indeed, while I found the book interesting enough, I also had a lot of sympathy for its critics' arguments, that there is an unhealthy symbiosis here between its length, the author's notoriety, and the amount of attention and awards it received; because surprisingly enough, it turns out that when you write a page story about the ins and outs of daily life for a petty criminal in the rural wastelands of the Pacific Northwest, such a story tends to get really tedious really fast, and it's hard to deny that the only reason Mailer made it this big and tedious was to give the Pulitzer committee the justification needed to give that year's award to a book that is frankly only subpar in quality.
Although certainly it had the kind of impact on journalism that its fans claim albeit not always in a positive way -- this is also the book that helped inspire all those endless "To Catch a Predator" lurid network-television specials , I can't honestly say that the book itself is anything special, and certainly not one of those fabled "books to read before you die" that serves as the ultimate litmus test in this essay series.
Do yourself a favor and read a biography instead of this endlessly captivating and infuriating figure, which much more than his finished books is what I feel will be his real lasting legacy. Is it a classic? No And don't forget that the first 33 essays in this series are now available in book form! View 1 comment. Apr 15, Jack added it. I should start out by admitting that I'm wary of inordinately long books.
I decided that this, my first Mailer, had a reputation such that I would give it a shot. I was on page , and had a moment of terrifying clarity in which it became real for me that I still had another pages to go. Thereafter, I started to find it difficult to maintain the proper p I should start out by admitting that I'm wary of inordinately long books. Thereafter, I started to find it difficult to maintain the proper perspective on precisely how well written this book is.
But I maintain that this book would be hard to evaluate anyway. The quality of the research is amazing, and with Gary Gilmore especially Mailer creates a wonderful literary portrait. Gilmore comes across as a psychopath, but still a human. Even when repulsed by Gilmore's motivations and actions, the reader can understand them. And although I personally never felt a great surge of sympathy for Gilmore, this portrait makes the second half of the book, when the media and the legal system engage in a truly nauseating liason to exploit Gilmore's pending execution, all the more effective.
And here too, I felt like I understood the people involved even as their actions made me physically wince. I couldn't shake the feeling though, that as mailer so meticulously reconstructs the pertinent actions and backgrounds of virtually EVERYBODY important to his subject, the discussion of Gilmore's victims felt kind of tacked on. He discusses their lives and the trauma to their families, but, for example, Gary's cousins and uncle both get more attention.
In fairness, this disparity could well just be because Gilmore's side cooperated with Mailer on the book. Similarly, I was a little disappointed that Gilmore's girlfriend Nicole - to whom Mailer devotes about as much attention as Gilmore and paints as compelling a portrait - just kind of disappears at the end. She spent much of the book seeming like a co-star in Mailer's story, and a very intriguing one, given that she WASN'T a heartless killer, but was in love with one.
But after Gilmore's death, she just kind of disappears, nothwistanding some extremely sad omens that she's just going to continue her self destructive patterns. Some other material could have have been clipped, and these kind of issues addressed, to create a conclusion more consistent to the text without adding length. All in all though, the book is remarkable simply because I'm not sure I've read anything quite like it.
It's certainly reminiscent of In Cold Blood, but seeks out a more comprehensive effort to document everything about the time period between Gilmore's parole for one crime and his execution only nine months later. The breadth of subjects interviewed and the scope of the narrative is astonishing. If that, he would say, was the foundation of the criminal justice system, then we had a pretty sick system.
When the crime becomes a focus of the wide public attention this publicity begins to work against justice. Oct 31, Fawaz Ali rated it it was ok Shelves: scrap-list. The book takes a particular interest in the events surrounding the murders, trial and execution of Gary Gilmore and follows the lives of people who have come into contact with him. The first part of the book leading to the murders is engaging; whereas the second part is dull; as it provides lengthy accounts of secondary characters that are irrelevant to the story of Gilmore.
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Mailer introduces minute and at times private details of these characters in the hope that the reader will be able to understand the psychological makeup of Gilmore and the reasons behind his murders. After all, what is the purpose of providing the eating and sexual habits of a character at length? Is it important to read long correspondence letters between Gilmore and his girlfriend containing nothing but obscene and sexual language?
Why provide extensive background material about anyone who has had a few minutes conversation with Gilmore? In the Summer of , Max Jensen had been married one year. He had just finished his first year of law school.
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He managed to get a job working nights at a gas station in Utah. One night, Gary Gilmore pulled in and put a gun to Jensen's head. He took what money was on hand. Then Gilmore said "This one's for me" and shot Jensen in the head. It the Summer of I had been married one year.
I had just finished my first year of law school and, not being well-connected, managed to get a job working In the Summer of , Max Jensen had been married one year. I had just finished my first year of law school and, not being well-connected, managed to get a job working nights at a secluded little gas station outside Pittsburgh, PA.
One night, two young men walked into the station around closing time. One of them pulled a gun, held it against my head and walked me into the bathroom. They took what money was on hand. I felt the barrel of the gun on the back of my head as they demanded I open the safe. I said I didn't know the combination, which was true. They told me to turn around. Awaiting a bullet, I was maced instead. In , I read The Executioner's Song and had, it's fair to say, a rooting interest. I had given up at around pages the first time.
And I could read no more than pages the second time. The reason on both occasions was the length of the novel - it is more than a pages long. This is what Bukowski wrote about Mailer: "God, he just writes on and on. There's no force, no humor. I don't understand it. Just a pushing out of the word, any word, anything The book is about a real life character called Gary Gilmore who decided to not defend himself in a murder trial.
In fact, he asked for his own execution, twice tried to commit suicide while in jail and wrote abusive letters to organizations that attempted to save him from the death penalty. The first part of the book called Western Voices is about how Gilmore tries to settle back into normal life within the predominantly Mormon community in Utah, when he is on parole at the age of By the time he was 35, Gilmore had spent most of his life in jail.
Gilmore finds it hard to fit back into society despite the mother's side of his family trying to help him with a place to stay and job at his uncle Vern Damico's shoe repair shop. But an intense and troubled love affair with Nicole, a divorced woman half his age, arouses Gilmore's criminal instincts once again. Mailer describes the strict and homogeneous Mormon society of Utah through the way the people over there perceive and look at Gilmore, the ex-con. The book is not written in first or second person. But we get to see Gilmore through the eyes of his family, his girlfriend, his work mates and other people who come in touch with him.
Mailer writes simple sentences that are often candid and conversational in tone. The scenes are almost entirely devoid of any sort of narrative punctuation. Mailer the writer takes a backseat in the first half of the novel.
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It is only in the second part of the novel that he begins to reveal his prejudices. A few months ago, I had asked on a book forum about novels with characters that live in trailers. I was always fascinated by people who lived that way. Well, part one of this book is probably the ultimate book about the folk who live in trailers and the whole redneck lifestyle. The second part of the novel is about Gilmore's trial, his life in prison, the suicide pact with Nicole, the machinations between various journalists like the hippy journalist and lawyer Dennis Boaz who is later outmaneuvered by Lawrence Schiller to write Gilmore's story, the human rights activists who tried to prevent his execution and the conservative Mormon lawyers who try to enforce it.
This is the less interesting part of the novel and one that I found really tough to get through. Mailer gets into minute details about financial transactions, legal jargon and intimate details about fringe characters who were not that interesting to me.
However, there is a very entertaining bit about a cell mate and undercover agent Richard Gibbs who tries to sell a story to the newspapers about his time with Gilmore. He ends up having a terrible accident. The second part also contains the poignant story of Gilmore's mother Bessie who lives alone in a trailer. She believes that something in a haunted house they occupied as a family during Gilmore's childhood entered him and this entity is what forced Gilmore to commit these murders. There are quite a few references to the devil in this novel. During an evening with Gilmore, Nicole senses an entity hovering around him and asks him if he is the devil.
Gilmore tells her that an ex jail-mate had asked him the same question. And also very sad. I wrote earlier that the book is devoid of narrative punctuation. There is none of the figurative language that is a feature of other Norman Mailer novels. But as someone who has read quite a few of Mailer's novels, it was quite evident to me that Mailer sympathized and even identified with Gilmore's plight. Mailer once said that society was designed to drive men deep into homosexuality and onanism. View all 4 comments. Cbj Not sure if I understood all of your story. Sep 21, PM.
Jul 17, Alex rated it really liked it Shelves: , rth-lifetime , reading-through-history. Top Five Executioner's Songs 5. Bodies, Drowning Pool 4. Look, I get what Mailer's doing here. He's using the case of murderer Gary Gilmore to raise big questions about good and evil and free will, and it's a smart thing to do and he does Top Five Executioner's Songs 5. He's using the case of murderer Gary Gilmore to raise big questions about good and evil and free will, and it's a smart thing to do and he does a good job. But that doesn't change that it's a bummer of a book. And it should have been pruned.
It is important for Mailer to show everyone around Gilmore, so we can see that it's his whole world, his whole milieu that directs him to where he ends up, but it didn't need this much detail. Mailer could've trimmed pages out and it still would've been longer than Crime and Punishment, y'know? And he definitely should have trimmed out most or all of Gilmore's letters. The guy is stuck at the maturity of a high schooler; his letters range from boring to embarrassing.
Which I understand is a point in itself, but maybe hammered home a bit hard. This book is good at what it does, but what it does is bum you right out. Oct 09, Flavia rated it did not like it. I had this book on my list as "must-read classic". I don't know where that came from. It was one of the most boring books I ever read. I didn't give anything away; it's on the book jacket. After reading how each person dressed, how they were raised even the minor players whose names you can forget right afterwards!
I feel I didn't learn much about the US court system, except that it is convoluted. Nor could I really care about any of the "characters". I think it is unlikely to change the minds of those in favor of the death penalty, if that was the intent. Bottom line is: what was the point of this, exactly? View all 3 comments. Dec 30, Mike rated it it was amazing Shelves: the-west , thes , favorites , crime. As with most of my favorite books, it's hard for me to know what to say about this one.
Or rather, it's hard to be succinct. In some ways, it's a very simple story. There's this guy, Gary Gilmore, who by his mids has spent most of his life in juvenile detentions and jails in the American west. He's released into the custody of extended family in Utah, and while he seems a bit rough around the edges, he can be charming and funny. He calls Thomas Mann 'Tom Mann', and he talks about reincarnation As with most of my favorite books, it's hard for me to know what to say about this one. He calls Thomas Mann 'Tom Mann', and he talks about reincarnation.
He has a side that's gentle and soulful, and that wants to work hard. He's perhaps never done anything truly unforgivable, and now he has a chance to put it all behind him, to try to have a good life, a 'normal' life. The American Dream, even. And not only can't he get there, but he fails in about the most tragic way possible.
A simple story, but its simplicity allows Mailer to raise the questions that great novels in this case, Mailer calls it a 'nonfiction novel' have always asked. Why did Gary become a murderer? Could he have chosen otherwise, or was he somehow compelled to, by the hand that life, or society, had dealt him?
How much choice did he have about the person he became, how much choice do you or I have? What would he say or do, if in some future circumstance he met the men he'd killed? Did he have the right to die, at a time when the death penalty in the US had been in abeyance for years? And what are the consequences of allowing him that wish? Personal, societal, legal? What happens to those who carry out the act? Like all great writers, Mailer answers what he can and leaves the rest to us. He hunts down just about every loose strand, though. Towards the end of the book, for example, he finds the men who had volunteered for Gilmore's firing squad in a dark cocktail lounge.
They were sitting there drinking and playing liar's poker with dollar bills. One of these men was short and stocky and in his mid-thirties, bald on top, and another was also in his mid-thirties with light brown hair, around six feet tall, average weight, only he had a real potbelly and wore glasses.
Those were the two talking the most. The third one who didn't talk had dark hair and an average build, but he had a real full beard and a mustache that was graying and he had tears in his eyes. Finally, he said if he had known what he was getting in for, he would never have done it. May 15, david rated it really liked it. The law, and the randomness of it, geographically and demographically, has always disturbed me. Additionally, the comingling of it from disparate precedents only exacerbates it, and the courtroom turns itself into a "Wheel of Fortune.
What you end up with is an expensive wall without doors, made poorly and soon to crumble. There is a way out but only for the officers of jurisprudence and their fraternity. If you want to leave wit The law, and the randomness of it, geographically and demographically, has always disturbed me. If you want to leave with them, there is a fee to be free, and no guarantee.
Yes, Mailer is quite the writer. And the story is well told. However, there is little pleasure gained from someone else's misery nor do I like reading how one person can dismantle and destroy the lives of many. Gary Gilmore, a deplorable celebrity, would be a non-issue in todays' world, a paragraph on page three of a local rag. So, what have we learned from his crime and his defense decades later?
Does the legal and prison systems work? No, but business is brisk, dockets and prisons are full, and it continues to aggrandize. Holy shit. I picked this off the shelf after a trip to SLC. Knew Utah was related. Didn't know I'd devour pages so fast. I think this should be required reading in the US of A. As a lover of Vollmann, and unfamiliar with any of Mailer's novels or longer works, I now compare his non-judgemental style and pathos to WTV, only he writes in a manner any one who made it to HS could understand.
I think no one but Mailer could have dared this book. The authentic Western voice, the voice heard in "The Executioner's Song," is one heard often in life but only rarely in literature, the reason being that to truly know the West is to lack all will to write it down.
The very subject of "The Executioner's Song" is that vast emptiness at the center of the Western experience, a nihilism antithetical not only to literature but to most other forms of human endeavor, a dread so close to zero that human voices fadeout, trail off, like skywriting. Beneath what Mailer calls "the immense blue of the strong sky of the American West," under that immense blue which dominates "The Executioner's Song," not too much makes a difference. The place at which both Gary Gilmore and his Mormon great-grandfather came to rest was a town where the desert lay at the end of every street, except to the east.
That was about it. In a world in which every road runs into the desert or the Interstate or the Rocky Mountains, people develop a pretty precarious sense of their place in the larger scheme. People get sick for love, think they want to die for love, shoot up the town for love, and then they move away, move on, forget the face. People commit their daughters, and move to Midway Island. People get in their cars at night and drive across two states to get a beer, see about a loan on a pickup, keep from going crazy.
It is a good idea to keep from going crazy because crazy people get committed again, and can no longer get in their cars and drive across two states to get a beer. Nicole Baker, Gary Gilmore's true love, got committed the first time at April Baker, Nicole's sister, had been a "little spacey" ever since she got bad-tripped and gang-banged when her father was on leave in Honolulu.
The "Western" book is a fatalistic drift, a tension, an overwhelming and passive rush toward the inevitable events that will end in Gary Gilmore's death. The "Eastern" book is the release of that tension, the resolution, the playing out of the execution, the active sequence that effectively ends on the January morning when Lawrence Schiller goes up in a six-seat plane and watches as Gary Gilmore's ashes are let loose from a plastic bag to blow over Provo.
The bag surprises Schiller. The bag is a bread bag, "with the printing from the bread company clearly on it. The women in the "Western" book are surprised by very little. They do not on the whole believe that events can be influenced. A kind of desolate wind seems to blow through the lives of these women in "The Executioner's Song," all these women who have dealings with Gary Gilmore from the April night when he lands in town with his black plastic penitentiary shoes until the day in January when he is just ash blowing over Provo. The wind seems to blow away memory, balance. The sensation of falling is constant.
Nicole Baker, still trying at 19 to "digest her life, her three marriages, her two kids, and more guys than you wanted to count," pits Gary Gilmore, plus Gary Gilmore's insistence that she meet him beyond the grave, reads a letter from Gary in prison and the words go "in and out of her head like a wind blowing off the top of the world.
Control is fugitive. Insanity is casual. The love-death seems as good a way of hanging on as any other. Gary and Nicole make wishes on a falling star and Nicole has "a rush of memories then like falling down in a dream. It was just one more unhappiness at the bottom of things. These women move in and out of paying attention to events, of noticing their own fate.
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