Rob Maynard's Reviews > The Executioner's Song

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
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's review
Oct 05, 2010

it was amazing
Read in October, 2010

This book was all the rage-caused a lot of rage-when I was a freshman in college. I passed on it at the time because I hadn't started reading Mailer and I didn't like the idea that it glorified a loser-murderer such as Gary Gilmore.

But this book is a masterwork of reportage and writing. At over a thousand pages it's a commitment, not a light read. But Mailer's writing and reporting partnership with Lawrence Schiller, which began with this book, yields an amazing time capsule of America in the 1970s.

Gilmore was the first American executed by the state in a decade after court decisions had first banned, then opened the door for the renewal of capital punishment. He openly requested to be executed for the two senseless murders he committed only months after being paroled after 12 years in prison. He had the dual soul of an artist and a convict, and his torrid relationship with Nicole Baker(he was 35 and she was 21) became immortalized in this book.

Gary Gilmore became a nightmare for anti-death penalty advocates--articulate, prison-wise, and ready to pay the ultimate price for killing two innocent, diligent young mormons. The book does give a sense of the pervasive state and private sector power of the Mormon Church in Utah, which is probably not much different now than in the 1970s.

The Executioner's Song won the Pulitzer. Mailer in later years sniffed that it wasn't near one of his favorite books, "an excercise in craft" he called it. I'll take it.
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