gaby's Reviews > The Executioner's Song

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
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's review
Mar 12, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: crime, biography, nonfiction, new-journalism
Recommended for: lovers of lovers, epics, convicts, murder, and the hollywood exploitation of it all
Read in March, 2008

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, 1100 page book about the life and death of Gary Gilmore.

1100 pages! 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 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. So, why not try the OTHER book he won a Pulitzer for?

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 500 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!") who swoop down into Provo, Utah, to capitalize on the sensationalism of capital punishment.

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." Gilmore was the first person executed in the US after the Supreme Court issued and then rescinded a moratorium on the death penalty. As if the issue of capital punishment wasn't thorny enough in 1970's politics, Gilmore threw the wrench of WANTING to be executed, and of wanting the right NOT to appeal. 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!

Through much of the first half, I figured this was Mailer's FUCK YOU to Capote for In Cold Blood. This was Mailer's response, and if you're going to take on In Cold Blood, it might as well be 1100 pages. But I was wrong. 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 1100 pages........

And now, on to Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail. When will this "New Journalism" streak end?????
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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gaby rly? i didn't realize mikal did much more than write for rolling stone a little during the 70's. at least, that's how mailer makes him sound. what is the kurt piece? that is awesome he lived underneath the bridge. i wonder if his tarp sprung a leak?

gaby shit i deleted that nice man's comment. i dont even know his name! sorry dude.

Vanessa I'm actually reading In Cold Blood now. I was debating whether I was up to tackling Executioner's next (reading a book that length is like getting married when I could have had affairs with several 200 page books in the meantime.) But you've convinced me. I should find out why people fucking worship Mailer, eh?

message 4: by ♥ Marlene♥ (last edited Dec 10, 2008 03:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

♥ Marlene♥ Reading it now. I have read about 3/4th now. Also reading at the same time Mikal's book. Shot at the heart which is also great.
I think you were spot on about the fact that this book is 2 stories in one and what a change the first part with the second part. All those greedy people wanting a piece of Gary.

gaby oh i am dying to know how mikal's book is. worth reading?

♥ Marlene♥ gaby wrote: "oh i am dying to know how mikal's book is. worth reading?


Yes I really liked it. But what i did was, I did not know much about this case except that he wanted to be executed, so I started with Mikal's book. I read until page 450 because that was where the Executioner's Song started. So Mikal's books is much more about there youth but written so well. Loved it!

Chris Gager The edition of "The Glass Bead Game that I
read was only about 300 pages. I never

Maria You are a self righteous haughty person. It is a good book. It is not meant to represent or impersonate anything in your measly job, life, existence, etc. It is a book for you to read. Not take personally. Get over yourself.

gaby lol! you're so smart maria! glad you have no idea what a 4 star rating means! have a great night enjoying your studio apartment!

Chris Gager ♥ Marlene♥ wrote: "gaby wrote: "oh i am dying to know how mikal's book is. worth reading?


Yes I really liked it. But what i did was, I did not know much about this case except that he wanted to be executed, s..."

not sure how my review of the glass bead game got in here. electronic drift?

message 11: by gaby (new) - rated it 4 stars

gaby Chris - I mentioned GBG in my review of the executioner's song...

Chris Gager Chris wrote: "♥ Marlene♥ wrote: "gaby wrote: "oh i am dying to know how mikal's book is. worth reading?


Yes I really liked it. But what i did was, I did not know much about this case except that he wanted t..."

I'm still wondering about the original length of the glass bead game. was it really 1000 pages?

message 13: by gaby (new) - rated it 4 stars

gaby i dunno chris, maybe my edition used a large font? it may have been 700 or 800 pages, not 1000.

Scott The glass bead game isn't longer than The Executioner's Song, my penguin modern classics version is 519 pages. I also like you read the GBG in about a week. War and Peace is the only book longer than The Executioner's Song I've ever read though I am considering Clarissa

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