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The Executioner's Song (1979)

by Norman Mailer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,885504,880 (3.99)189
In what is arguably his greatest book--written in 1979 and reissued here in trade paperback--America's most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America's prisons who---after robbing two men and killing them in cold blood--insisted on dying for his crime.… (more)

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» See also 189 mentions

English (44)  Spanish (3)  French (2)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Life of murderer Gary Gilmore- "JUST DO IT" ( )
  betty_s | Oct 7, 2023 |
The first third of this book was wild and wouldn’t let you look away. Then it got fluffy. There is so much in here that didn’t need to be. The court case was covered in just a few pages it felt like but was surrounded by nonsense. I skipped so much in the last half. It just drug on and on and on. I suppose that’s how Gary felt but I couldn’t care less because this was 1100 pages of the worst of humanity.

Additionally, there were some seriously questionable grammatical choices by Mailer here. Not talking about the letters, those I understand. But sentence structure, punctuation, and paragraph groupings were almost as disturbing as the content. [Almost.] ( )
  ilkjen | May 3, 2023 |
I'll be honest saying I did not finish this epic story (1000 pages) In fact I only made it through the first 300 and got worn out by all the exposition. I added it to my list since it had been recommended due to having read "In Cold Blood" which in my opinion is head and shoulders better than this book. Being a screen writer, producer and avid reader, I find the overuse of back story and exposition not to my liking though I'm obviously in the minority since the book was heralded by many. Regardless I found it tedious and far too slow paced for my blood. ( )
  Jonathan5 | Feb 20, 2023 |
Unforgettable! The prose style of this narrative-realistic novel is unique in my experience. It is a book that I devoured and one that has stayed in the back of my mind for years as one that I should reread. I continue to wonder at the genius of Norman Mailer as exhibited in this creation. He creates the world of Gary Gilmore in a way that made this reader feel it in a visceral way. It takes great writing to do that and keep you reading for hundreds of pages. Mailer nailed it. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 26, 2022 |
I'm still taking it in, but it's an amazing book. For me, it got a bit slow when talking about all the people who were trying to get rights and contracts for books, movies, etc. But very captivating nonetheless. At times, I thought about when I read "In Cold Blood", which was such an incredible book. This book ranks pretty close to that, in my opinion. Mailer is a great writer and story teller, and this book demonstrates that skill in a moving way. If you question how people might actually find compassion for a person who took two innocent lives in a brutal manner, you'll have to read the book. ( )
1 vote btbell_lt | Aug 1, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Mailer's massive study of the Gilmore case is unlikely to have the impact its author expected. All journalism dates, and this is not so much the higher as the longer journalism: 1,056 big pages and far too many facts. The value of this sedulous accumulation was presumably intended to rest on the uniqueness of Gilmore's rejection of penal liberalism, but Gilmore has ceased to be unique. Style will not preserve the book, since it has no style...

What we might have expected from The Executioner's Song is a Mailerian mystico-astrologico-metaphysical expatiation on the significance of Gilmore – quasi-existential victim-hero – in a culture increasingly selling out to evil, but there is no commentary as there is no style. The question must finally be asked: why bother? Granted that every human soul may be worthy of 1,056 pages, why should a cold murderer with a certain capacity for love and poetry be deemed worthier of such expensive celebration than the harmless grocer of Gissing's New Grub Street?

» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mailer, Normanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brisk, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Capriolo, EttoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hamilton, MaxwellNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Deep in my dungeon
I welcome you here
Deep in my dungeon
I worship your fear
Deep in my dungeon
I dwell.
I do not know
if I wish you well
--old prison rhyme
To Norris, to John Buffalo, and to Scott Meredith
First words
Brenda was six when she fell out of the apple tree.
Other reporters would be on the phone, checking back to hear what was going down, but Schiller sat and relaxed and let the heat of the room pour over him and the fatigues of twenty-five years perspired slowly, a drop and another drop from the bottomless reservoirs of fatigue, and he sat there quietly thinking, and let his sins and errors wash over him, and reviewed them. He considered it obscene not to learn from experience.
Gary had taken a small cardboard box, painted it black, and put a tiny hole in it so it looked as if it were one of those lensless pinpoint cameras. He told Skeezix he had film in the box, and it would take a picture through the pinhole. Everybody gathered around to watch Gary take a picture of the fellow going down on himself. Skeezix was so dumb he was still waiting for the photo to come back.
On finishing his story, Gary went off laughing so hard, Brenda thought he’d sling his spaghetti around the room. She was awful glad when he wheezed into silence and fixed her with his eye as if to say, “Now, do you see my conversational problem?”
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In what is arguably his greatest book--written in 1979 and reissued here in trade paperback--America's most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America's prisons who---after robbing two men and killing them in cold blood--insisted on dying for his crime.

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