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The Executioner's Song [Paperback]

Norman Mailer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Aug 1998
Winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize

In what is arguably his greatest book, America's most heroically ambitious writer follows
the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America's
prisons who became notorious for two reasons: first, for robbing two men in 1976, then
killing them in cold blood; and, second, after being tried and convicted, for insisting on
dying for his crime. To do so, he had to fight a system that seemed paradoxically intent on
keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death.

Norman Mailer tells Gilmore's story--and those of the men and women caught up in his
procession toward the firing squad--with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a
restraint that evokes the parched landscapes and stern theology of Gilmore's Utah. The
Executioner's Song
is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest sources of
American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement--impossible to put down, impossible to forget.


Product details

  • Paperback: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage International Ed edition (1 Aug 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700811
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,554,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"It possesses such truth of feeling, such clarity and conviction of narrative, such a wealth of image and adventure, and such depths of long-held passion that I do believe it is indeed that rarest thing: a classic" -- John Le Carre "A deeply unsettling account of a particular ordeal that suggests larger questions: the moralities of power's ends and means, the character of revolutionary fanaticism and the indecipherable humanity that flickers within it...by turns evocative, wise and crisscrossed by fury" New York Times Book Review "[A] fascinating book, to say the least. Passages of The Gate are riveting, some scenes heartbreaking" Wall Street Journal "A great writer: in the utterly enthralling story of Gary Gilmore's life and crimes Norman Mailer takes one as deeply into the criminal mind as it is possible to get" Alan Sillitoe --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

'A harrowing narrative, worthy of a novel by Graham Greene or John le Carre. [It] possesses the indelible power of a survivor's testimony' - New York Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbound for a 1000 pages 27 Nov 2003
Format:Paperback
Mailer's tour de force. This monster book (+1000 pages long)tells the true story of an intelligent convict on parole in 1976, falling into his bad ways, and meets destiny calmly.
Mailer tells the story as an old Greek bard - in the end, it seems the only way things could have happened. Mailer gets into the skin of most people involved or related, describes their feelings (perfectly understable), measures the impact on America (wow! a convicted killer demands a right to die, overruling his own defence, apparently supporting the idea behind the penal code etc).
The other main storyline is oddly a love affair (also factual, not fictional) between the convicted and a girl. It is essetially a story of two social drop outs, two drifters but nevertheless really 'gelling' to use a modern term.
Doesn't bore for one bit. Good story on the madness of the US criminal system, the criminals, their families, their victims the press. In a way it shows that people in the end care (mainly about their own interests) and at the same time be totally careless, cyanical. Makes you think about society.
Of course, Mailer being Mailer, a lot of sex, drugs and violence are on the pages, but do not dominate the story.
The whole thing just takes you by the hand & after the 1000-odd pages, a big sigh & many thoughts pass.
Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mailers song hits the "high, white note" 9 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback
This jaw-dropping book recieves less than flattering reviews because for some reason people want to be spoon-fed "answers" all the time to people like Gary Gilmore. What Mailer delivers instead is a truly outstanding feat of journalism, far surpassing any fiction, by painstakingly building Gilmores story from thousands of discrete, taut, unsentimental blocks of prose - allowing us to cement them together and giving us room to think for ourselves. Readers expecting Mailer to provide plot, climax, titillation, shocking details or answers as to "why" will rightly be bored, and have missed the point. Mailers neutral measured prose provides just the right angle of entry into a life that was devoid of plot and reason, just action and reaction. It is a clear white light cutting through the interests whose story he tells so skilfully in this book. Yes the length does not help, and you should do yourself a big favour take it on holiday and read it in a long hard week. But do it with an open mind and you will be infinitely rewarded... and glad you did. Unique, and to be treasured.

Once you've read this, grab more gems of late 20th c. American journalism - start with Hunter S Thompsons "The Great Shark Hunt" and Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 1000-page song 23 Feb 2008
Format:Paperback
`The Executioner's Song` was one of two non-fiction works, along with `Armies of the Night`, that won Norman Mailer the Pulitzer Prize. Is it an archetypally weighty tome for an author who seemed to pride himself on tacking the big subjects of his era with bawdy gusto. It concerns itself with the life and execution of career criminal and, finally, murderer Gary Gilmore, who was one of the first death row convicts to be exectuted in the US for many years. The case was made more peculiar for Gilmore's willingness to accept his death sentence and the subsequent legal battles between vested interest groups ushered in an unprecedented media sensation.

`The Executioner's Song` is evidently constructed from multiple interviews with associates of Gilmore's, from his friends and family to those involved in both sides of the legal disputes surrounding his death by firing squad. Ultimately, what we read is a heavily culled factual account of the Gilmore sourced from these interviews and transferred from the first person to the third. Therefore what is admirable about this work is thoroughness and balance of its research, not any particular display of writing from the author. In fact, the `Voices' that comprise the two distinct parts of the novel - ostensibly depicting Gilmore's life immediately before the murders and the subsequent trial - wholly retain the vernacular and idioms of the original speakers. The end result is thus a mosaic of subjectivised accounts pieced together by an astute and no doubt painstaking editing process.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to suggest that `The Executioner's Song`, however interesting, does not warrant the 1000 page-treatment given here.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional tale of desire to change history 15 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The executioners song is a compelling tale of one mans desire to end his own life and change the lives of many more forever.
A convicted murderer who had spent many years behind bars tasted freedom, vices and love. Throws them away along with the lives of his family and lover. He continues to control and dominate his lover to the point of her ending her life. He expresses an enormous desire to receive his just reward for killing innocent men and escape forever his torment of prison.
The story doesn't go into why he spent many years in prison prior to being released on parole. This element of his life may have had some impact as to why he did what he did later. The ardous battle with his family and lawyers for him to escape from his prison life ahead of him is compelling. The impact that his actions had on America is unbelievable. His words of just do it explain his casual approach to murder and death but did he do it for attention? The lives of so many have been affected and those close to him are the only ones who can say.
I have read this masterpiece over the last nine years and each time understand a little more. Would his suicide have affected the rest of America as his execution? Control freak or coward? More questions will be raised, reading may supply the answer.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent well written novel
1100 pages seems like a daunting challenge. However, the story is so well written that at the end, I wish there was more to read.
Published 1 month ago by John Cobb
5.0 out of 5 stars A very modern classic
The very sad story of how the criminal justice systems fails not only those it serves to protect but also those it serves to punish.
Published 2 months ago by Simon DC James
5.0 out of 5 stars if you have seen this film
What a stunning performance from all, a class film not got round to reading yet but can't wait will be more in depth no doubt
Published 3 months ago by Terry Lavender
3.0 out of 5 stars The Executioner's Song Goes on. And on.
I've been reading this book for about 24 years. I can no longer take it back to the library I loaned it out from, because the library has become a cinema. Read more
Published 6 months ago by craig
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating factual fiction!
Really long book but I read it fast as it is so fascinating- full of ridiculously well researched information about Gilmore and those involved in his life from childhood to the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by CassettePet
4.0 out of 5 stars 'It grew into a calm rage. And I opened the gate and let it out'
A huge (1000+ page) work on the final months in the life of Gary Gilmore, this opens with his release from many years in prison to stay with relatives in Utah. Read more
Published 8 months ago by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent achievement.
Here, in this quite extraordinary work, we encounter Mailer at his very best. The book functions at many levels: a moral indictment of the hypocrisy of a particular penal code, a... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Bluecashmere.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book,sad story about a man going wasted
The story of Gary Gillmore is a remarkable one. What a guy! What a childhood, read this book and a shot in the heart written by his brother.
Published 13 months ago by Vassia Emmanouilidou
4.0 out of 5 stars The Executioner's Song
Perhaps a little more aged than I had expected but perfectly readable. Essential reading and seller is to be commended for value for money.
Published 13 months ago by P JACKSON
2.0 out of 5 stars Mailer's Ego Unchecked.
After watching a Sky Arts documentary about the author and having read some of his work over the years, this book appealed to me. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Mikey G
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