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The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
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The Executioner's Song (1979)

by Norman Mailer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,315424,196 (3.99)153
  1. 10
    Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burn (Moomin_Mama)
    Moomin_Mama: For those who enjoyed the way Mailer concentrated on the backgrounds of those involved, as well as their thoughts and feelings, while feeling that the more sinister clues to Gilmore's personality were almost lost, try Burn's book. He takes a similar approach but pares it right down to produce something chilling.… (more)
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» See also 153 mentions

English (37)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
3.5

Engaging but overdrawn. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
Finally finished The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer. Holy fuck what a read. I've never been so satisfied than I was when I closed the last page. I've never felt so serene, and learnt, and appreciative. So moved and awestruck. I will never forget the name Gary Gilmore for the rest of my life. What an important piece of history this was. Completely exhausting though with 1100 pages. Man I can't even explain what this book did to me. It is almost like Mailer was trying to out-do Capote and write the mother of true crime novels, and knowing what Mailer is like, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case at all. ( )
  Zaccer | Jan 2, 2019 |
Finally finished The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer. Holy fuck what a read. I've never been so satisfied than I was when I closed the last page. I've never felt so serene, and learnt, and appreciative. So moved and awestruck. I will never forget the name Gary Gilmore for the rest of my life. What an important piece of history this was. Completely exhausting though with 1100 pages. Man I can't even explain what this book did to me. It is almost like Mailer was trying to out-do Capote and write the mother of true crime novels, and knowing what Mailer is like, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case at all. ( )
  Zaccer | Jan 2, 2019 |
Finally finished The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer. Holy fuck what a read. I've never been so satisfied than I was when I closed the last page. I've never felt so serene, and learnt, and appreciative. So moved and awestruck. I will never forget the name Gary Gilmore for the rest of my life. What an important piece of history this was. Completely exhausting though with 1100 pages. Man I can't even explain what this book did to me. It is almost like Mailer was trying to out-do Capote and write the mother of true crime novels, and knowing what Mailer is like, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case at all. ( )
  Zaccer | Jan 2, 2019 |
In Furman v. Georgia, in 1972, the Supreme Court in a very divided opinion struck down death penalty statutes all over the country, citing arbitrariness and racism in determining which defendants were subjected to it. Four years later, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Court reversed itself and allowed the death penalty to resume. The first person to be executed after Gregg was a man in Utah named Gary Gilmore. In The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer tells the story of how that came to be.

It's not actually all that complicated. Although he was quite bright, Gary had an unstable childhood and started getting into trouble young, stealing cars and getting sent first to juvie and then real jail. At 22, he was imprisoned for armed robbery and after spending 14 years on the inside, he was eventually paroled and went to Utah to live with a cousin. Although his family and new community genuinely tried to help him, Gary had a hard time adjusting to life in the real world...until he met Nicole Baker. Nicole had a troubled history of her own, including commitment to a mental health facility and two divorces (along with two children) at the age of 19. Their relationship was intense but turbulent, and their breakup left Gary spiraling out of control. He shot and killed both a gas station attendant and a hotel clerk, and was caught, tried, and sentenced to death in relatively short order. When the sentence was pronounced, Gary decided not to fight it...he went through lawyers until he found one that would honor his decision to not appeal and let the penalty be carried out. Although a few appeals were undertaken on his behalf, much to his fury, he was ultimately executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977.

Out of this, Mailer spins a 1000 page epic. And there's probably an incredible 500-600 page book inside of it somewhere, but boy howdy was this in screaming need of a firm editor. The book is divided into two roughly equal sections...the first ends with Gary's sentence, and the second not too long after his execution. Both portions drag for extended periods. Although Mailer's prose style is interesting and engaging, his determination to include everything he uncovered in his clearly very extensive research weighs down the narrative. The book takes a couple hundred pages to get to the point where the murders happen...which are then over, along with the trial, in about fifty. The back half of the book is dedicated as much to the wheelings and dealings of Hollywood players trying to get the rights to Gary's story as it is to Gary's actual story, and though there's a statement in there about how Gary pretty much stopped being a person and started being a commodity from that point forward, it's honestly just not that compelling. I never had any emotional investment in the relationship between Lawrence Schilling and his girlfriend, although from the attention Mailer paid to it you would think it's an important component of the proceedings. The book finishes strong by recounting Gary's last hours, death, and the immediate fallout on his loved ones, but there had been so many bumps in the road along the way that I was mostly just glad it was over. You have to admire its ambition and scope, but the actual product is very uneven. It's worth reading, if you're interested in this kind of thing, but not a must-read by any stretch. ( )
1 vote 500books | May 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mailer, Normanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brisk, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Capriolo, EttoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
To Norris, to John Buffalo, and to Scott Meredith
First words
Brenda was six when she fell out of the apple tree.
Quotations
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375700811, Paperback)

The Executioner's Song is a work of unprecedented force. It is the true story of Gary Gilmore, who in 1977 became the first person executed in the United States since the reinstitution of the death penalty. Gilmore, a violent yet articulate man who chose not to fight his death-penalty sentence, touched off a national debate about capital punishment. He allowed Norman Mailer and researcher Lawrence Schiller complete access to his story. Mailer took the material and produced an immense book with a dry, unwavering voice and meticulous attention to detail on Gilmore's life--particularly his relationship with Nicole Baker, whom Gilmore claims to have killed. What unfolds is a powerful drama, a distorted love affair, and a chilling look into the mind of a murderer in his countdown with a firing squad.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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.

» see all 3 descriptions

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