Saturday, June 28, 2014

"The Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer

To be honest with you, I think writing a review of the book I just read; The Executioner’s Song by the late Norman Mailer is completely and utterly pointless, but I must do so out of habit. I will try, but I know I will fail in conveying the power and emotional resonance of one of the greatest books ever written. But it is not only a great book, on a page by page basis, but an important one, for it eloquently and without arrogance, expounds on themes and ideas that are as timeless as they are painful to talk about and hard to accept. Before I began to write this review, I had to run to my nearest bookstore and read the foreword that Dave Egger’s wrote for the newest edition of this book (it brought up some good points which I will bring up), and to steal some of his advice, I suggest not looking up on this case before undertaking this book, instead coming in fresh, which will be easy, since the story of Gilmore isn’t a big part of modern American consciousness. And despite how tempting it will be to look information up online, because 1056 pages is a lot to get through, I think it’s new found anonymity is one of the luxuries that this book has gained as time has gone on. And despite what you may think of Norman Mailer, because he is a hard person to like, it bears nothing on this book and it’s themes and virtues. The long book details the last nine months of the life of career criminal Gary Gilmore. He is in his mid thirties, and has spent more than half of that by the time he is released from a fourteen-year prison stent in April of 1976. He moves in with his Uncle Vern and
Aunt Ida, gets a job and falls deeply in love with Nicole Baker, a 19 year old widow with two children. As things begin to fall apart, Gary becomes more violent, eventually committing two murders, in cold blood. He is arrested and sentenced to death, a sentence that he fights for with all of his being. To tell you anything else would be criminal, for what happens between these 1056 pages will change you. It sounds corny, but the writing and storytelling, free of Mailer’s macho qualities, can be beautiful and ugly, disturbing and transcendent, and optimistic and sad. This book is quite and emotional ride, but brings up important questions about prison and institutionalized criminality, but goes deeper into the American psyche to show the painful unacknowledged connection between loneliness, isolation and violence. In Gary Gilmore, we have a three-dimensional character, whose dreams we root for, and whose actions we can detest. It shows another, very painful truth: that killers and other violent people, can be human, with the same likable qualities and same need for love, and dare I say, same hopes and dreams? This is a hard book to swallow, but it may be the best book on American loneliness ever written. I still don’t think I did this book justice, but I can try to give this book my highest praise: I don’t think you should read this. You HAVE to read this.

Rating: 5/5

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