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Shot in the Heart

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  1,658 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Gary Gilmore, the infamous murderer immortalized by Norman Mailer in The Executioner's Song, campaigned for his own death and was executed by firing squad in 1977. Writer Mikal Gilmore is his younger brother. In Shot in the Heart, he tells the stunning story of their wildly dysfunctional family: their mother, a blacksheep daughter of unforgiving Mormon farmers; their fathe...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Anchor Books (first published 1994)
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Night by Elie WieselThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsGirlbomb by Janice ErlbaumFun Home by Alison BechdelShot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
Most Compelling Memoirs
5th out of 87 books — 80 voters
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Best Depressing Books
68th out of 173 books — 301 voters


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Community Reviews

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Mariel
Jul 28, 2011 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the sweet smell of success
Recommended to Mariel by: my knuckle sandwiches say love and death
Mikal Gilmore was the "saved" son. Born after the restless years in the ditches of the back roads of America, running only to beat out another day, like stretching a junk yard car past empty to see how long it'll still go. Saved and kicked out of the family for his own good, because he could be too good, if he was lucky. It doesn't really feel good, or lucky. Second son Gary became famous for wishing his execution to be carried out (coughs as famously written about in Norman Mailer's book The Ex...more
Zarb
I was a bit hesitant to read this one, mainly because I'm wary of books by authors who draw their legitimacy mainly from just being close to events that capture the public imagination. Most of us are not great writers, or even good ones and thus when a book turns up in a fashion that suggests a publisher is here to cash in on popular culture, rather than support a talent, I want little to do with it. Funnily enough now that I rave about this book to others I often see the same wariness frosting...more
Nnedi
Chilling, disturbing, and very well-told. Executioner's Song was over a thousand pages and a wonderful book. Nevertheless, it somehow managed to tell less than half the story. I'm really glad I read this right after. Now I get it. Now I see. Gary Gilmore wasn't just some crazy man (which makes his violence that much more horrifying and sick). What he did was practically inevitable. It could have been so much worse. He is a prime example of the failure of America's prison and Capital Punishment s...more
Andy
You think you have a messed up family? Well, you probably do, but I can pretty much guarantee it's not as messed up as Mikal Gilmore's family. This book describes what it was like to grow up as the younger brother of Gary Gilmore.

This book was really good, and I think Mikal Gilmore is an awesome author. The only reason that I gave it three stars instead of four was that it was pretty heavy on the psychoanalysis of the Gilmore family dynamic. Sometimes it just got to be too much. (P.S. I ended up...more
JGG
An amazing, amazing book that is one of only a handful of books I'd recommend to anyone and everyone. I honestly can't understand how any curious, intelligent person could dislike it. Highly, highly recommended.
Diann Blakely
If I had a “ten-best” list of memoirs, near the top would surely be Mikal Gilmore’s SHOT IN THE HEART, his searing account of growing up as Gary Gilmore’s brother. The two siblings lived parallel existences in the “blood-atonement” culture of the Mormon west, raised by two violent and abusive parents who seemed to hate not only each other, but at times, their own children. Gary Gilmore went on to gain notoriety as the first man to be executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in this...more
Ursula
Years ago, I devoured the gigantic Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer in a weekend. Gary Gilmore's story as Mailer told it was heart-wrenching and involving. I picked up Shot in the Heart to see what Mikal Gilmore could add to the story. The answer is both a lot and not much.

Mikal was the youngest of the four Gilmore boys, with a 6-year gap between him and the next-youngest, Gaylen. Mikal's memories start well after Gary's life had started down a hard path; in fact, his first memory of Gary is...more
Erik Simon
Throughout this book, I kept wondering how Gary Gilmore was the only one in his family who turned out to be a murderer. Seriously: awful parenting 101.

For those who want the story of Gary's murders, as well as the famous subsequent trial, read EXECUTIONER'S SONG, the only book Mailer wrote that was worth a damn. But if you want to know what happened in Gilmore's family in the sixty years preceding his murders, as well as the ten or so years following his execution, read this. Truly extraordinar...more
Stuart Chandler
This is an amazing book. Mikal Gilmore was a writer for Rolling Stone when I read this. He writes the story about his brother, Gary Gilmore, who died of firing squad in the death penalty for murders he committed in Utah in the 70's. Because they were brothers, Mikal's account is extremely personal and insightful sharing the interesting and sad relationship with their parents...especially dad. It was an outstanding read if you enjoy stories about the human condition, even at its darkest moments....more
Stephen
There are many dysfunctional families (just slightly short of "all"), but the family described in this is dysfunctional with a capital DYS! Mikal Gilmore is the talented younger brother of Gary Gilmore, the first man executed in the United States after a ten-year U.S. moratorium on executions. Yes, Gary Gilmore was shot in the heart in 1977 in Utah, which maintained this form of execution until fairly recently so that murderers could atone for their terrible sin by shedding their own blood (hang...more
Glenn
Amazing account of a fascinating and tragic family and its history & dynamics. Everything is amazing: the content, the writing, the research, the honesty and courage of the writer, the lack of sentimentality, and the full and vivid picture he creates of the family members, their relationships, their humanity and their pain.

The family includes Gary Gilmore, who in the late 70's was found guilty of double murder, and executed by firing squad. The author is his youngest brother. But the book i...more
Kristin
I highly recommend this book. An excellent read, especially if you're interested in criminal and family psychology.
From my now defunct blog:
I've stayed up past midnight the past two nights finishing this book. Both nights I've gone to bed spooked, but that doesn't stop me. Considering the fact that I'm usually in bed by 10:30 or so, this is definitely saying something. I was a little girl during the 1970's, so I don't remember anything about Gary Gilmore and his story. In fact, I'd never heard h...more
Holly
This book contains one of my favorite sentences ever written about Mormon children: speaking of his cousins, Gilmore writes, "They seemed prissy and mean at the same time--in the way that only well-bred Mormon children can seem."

Given that I was a well-bred Mormon child--as were almost all my relatives and friends--I understood instantly what Gilmore meant. I thought long and hard about what made us all that way, and I appreciated his sharp powers of observation.

I've read this book three or four...more
Karo
I've approached writing this review with some hesitation -- I'm not quite sure what to say after having completed Shot in the Heart. I suppose that I should start off by saying that Gary Gilmore was put to death before I was born, and I've never read or seen The Executioner's Song, so this was a completely new topic to me. I picked the books up at a used book store because I'm a big fan of the memoir. Now that I've finished, I'm a little stunned. The life that Mikal describes as his childhood an...more
Tim Healy
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy

When I started this book, I expected it to be a memoir of Gary Gilmore's life and death written by his brother Mikal. I was only kind of right, which is just a different way to say I was wrong. What Gilmore has done is both more difficult, and I believe more painful.

Mikal is a good writer of non-fiction. He's clear and concise without skimping on detail. He knows a lot of the details here first-hand, and...more
Talulah Mankiller
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
E
When I was packing in anticipation of heading off to do my fieldwork I asked Miriam to select a few books for me to take along. She picked Shot in the Heart, which she's been after me to read for at least a year, and Lolita, one of her favourites and definitely the one she most loves to teach. It didn't occur to either of us that perhaps it wasn't the smartest idea to bring these two dark, disturbing books to serve as distractions from the unyielding cacophony that is Caracas, and indeed, spendi...more
Karen Villanueva
I read this in 1994. It moved me so much and it remains on my top Ten. Astounding, tragic, riveting, horrifyingly sad. The number one pick of all I have read in the last two decades,followed by "Broken" by William Cope Moyers. The depth, drama, pain, and no-holds-barred storytelling are truly for those who want to understand the human condition and the experiences that shape us--the affect on brain and emotional chemistry from that which we experience and interpret--which, try as we might, we ca...more
Denise Gee
Though I'm a little behind the beat in getting to this, I'm so glad I did. It's one of the best-written family memoirs I've yet to read. Gilmore is one of our generation's most knowledgeable music/pop culture writers (and I'm reading another of his books next) but many may not know that his brother was Gary Gilmore, focus of "The Executioner's Song" and the first person to die in this country after capital punishment was reinstated. Gilmore's writing — and story —is achingly memorable. Haunting,...more
Rebecca
Jun 29, 2009 Rebecca rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Kate
Recommended to Rebecca by: Powell's
Fairly gripping family history of Gary Gilmore, the first man executed in the U.S. after the moratorium on executions was lifted in the 70s. Gilmore's youngest brother, who lived in Portland most of his life before moving to SF and LA to write for Rolling Stone, writes of a past marked by abuse, violence, family myths and secrets and ghost stories. Gilmore killed and was executed in Utah. His mother was a Mormon and his father a drifter and con-man. Gives interesting account of some history and...more
Heather
Gary Gilmore was the first person executed in the U.S. (Utah) after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 (this book was written by Gilmore's brother). While this was an interesting read about Gilmore's life, throughout the book it was reiterated that the Mormon religion was somewhat to blame for Gilmore's outcome. Now, I'll be the first to say that I don't know much about the Mormon religion (I've been exposed to and have read about it, but that's the extent of my involvement), but the...more
Powells.com
Mikal Gilmore's family history is a ghost that lingers long after you close the cover. His brother Gary's infamous choice to pay an eye for an eye after murdering two young Mormon men was the grain of sand in the oyster that is Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song. The story is about the entire family (four boys, their sad mother, their abusive father) and is sweet and horrific at the same time. A look at Portland, Oregon, in the 1950s and a history of blood-letting complete this intriguing and ve...more
Heather Anderson
Growing up in the 70s, I always wondered about Gary Gilmore (I blame Saturday Night Live and their snarky Xmas song about him)...This book is written by his brother. I never knew much about mormonism, and this book started me reading about it extensively. It is so well-written. Mikal Gilmore even talks about the Adverts' song. If you've ever wondered about Gary Gilmore this is the best possible book to learn from. How one person could insist on the death penalty for himself an succeed in doing s...more
Melissa
This was such an interesting look at the family life of Gary Gilmore as told by his brother, Mikal. His look into what may have made Gary do the things he did was so honest, well researched and well written that I had a hard time putting it down. One thing that does disturb me, though, is that it seems that this book and society as a whole try to justify a person's actions based on others, rather than accepting personal responsibility for their own choices. It really made me think.
Craig
One of the most heart-wrenching dysfunctional tales you'll ever read, this memoir by the younger brother of Gary Gilmore, the first person executed in the U.S. after the 1970s repeal of the death penalty, captures the family travails that can lead some to the dark side and others wonder how to avoid it better than any book I've read.

Mikal Gilmore is a talented music writer and while I've never read any of his other books, this one has stayed with me for years.
Jordan Brown
Fascinating book !

I read this for a university course about aggression and couldn't put it down. This book concerns a criminal / spree killer, but it does not focus on the crime. It focuses on the family of the killer, trying to pinpoint when he became a killer (psychologically). A fascinating read about a less-than-perfect family, read it if you like true crime novels and have an interest in the background / early life of criminals.
Grace Peterson
I found this book extremely interesting given that much of it took place in my old stomping ground of Portland, Oregon. The public history is mixed with the personal reflections of the author's family and the reasons why his brother went from an innocent child to a distressed and angry teen, eventually becoming a murder. I think this should be required reading for all mental health practitioners and maybe every parent too.
Maureen
May 22, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is the other side of the Gary Gilmore coin: Norman Mailer on one side, Mikal Gilmore on the other. I think is fascinating that one brother became a petty crook and ultimately a killer, while the other became a successful journalist and author. Other than Executioner's Song, the other book I most associate with this one is James Ellroy's My Dark Places.

Mikal Gilmore's story hits hard, and is worth reading.
Kate
It's hard to think of just the right words to describe this book, especially as Gilmore, the author, does such a fantastic job of relating the tragedy of his family into such beautiful words. It's a harrowing, saddening read, but so masterfully told that I was completely sucked into the lives - and ultimately, the demise - of the main characters of this memoir. I confidently recommend this book to everyone.
Zhara
This will book always be my favorite nonfiction book,but just like Sophie's Choice it will break my heart each time,but unlike Sophie's Choice this book has real live, breathing, people who paved the road with pain, blood, and heartache. This nonfiction book reads like a novel every time I read this book I have a hard time putting it down and lose track of time. A masterpiece of the depressing,soul tearing, kind.
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Mikal Gilmore was born "Michael Gilmore," but later changed the spelling of his name. He was born February 9, 1951 to Frank and Bessie Gilmore.

In 1977, Gilmore's brother Gary, a convicted murderer, was the first person executed after the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Gary Gilmore was executed for shooting two young Mormons, Max Jensen and Ben Bushnell, in cold blood. He was executed by fir...more
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