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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbound for a 1000 pages
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...
Published on 27 Nov. 2003 by fields21

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good account of major event in recent US history
I had looked forward to reading this book, as I had heard it was an important piece of literature. Unfortunatley, I was somewhat dissapointed in it. At 1,000 pages, Mailer clearly covered the subject in a lot of depth and I thought his coverage of the events leading up to the murders and Gilmore's subsequent fight to be executed were extremely well handled. However,...
Published on 1 July 1999


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbound for a 1000 pages, 27 Nov. 2003
By 
fields21 "fields21" (Hoogerheide, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mailers song hits the "high, white note", 9 Aug. 2008
By 
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 1000-page song, 23 Feb. 2008
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (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. It is easy to lose track of who's who among the enormous cast of names connected to Gilmore, especially the more peripheral `characters'. Given the nature of the book, no great effort is made to clarify some of the legal processes, which are taken from first person accounts and not often comprehensible to the layman. Moreover, not all of what is included could be honestly described as necessary or interesting, and a little further whittling down might have tightened this up a bit. I'm ashamed to say it took me almost two months to slog through this, my interest hitting peaks and troughs.

Certainly as a historical document - and as a legal reference-point - `The Executioner's Song` is comprehensive. But history has been unkind to the Gilmore story; in retrospect one wonders why anyone would be compelled to create such a tome for such a relatively minor event. If The Executioner's Song reminds us how brightly the oxygen of publicity can burn, it also shows how little remains when the media loses interest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'It grew into a calm rage. And I opened the gate and let it out', 29 Oct. 2013
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. All too soon their well-meaning efforts to rehabilitate him seem doomed to failure, especially as he takes up with the damaged Nicole... I found the first part of the book utterly compelling - his home life, and ultimately the two terrible and pointless murders that he carries out.
The second half, for me, was way too long. The characters who take centre stage now are largely lawyers and newspaper reporters, for whom Gilmore's death penalty represents a chance to get rich:
'We're embarrassed to tell you this, but the contract is only effective if the execution is carried out.'
The whole media circus; the appeals as various lawyers and human rights groups fight for Gilmore's life (against his will as he demands to die rather than spend his life in jail) seemed to go on excessively.
Although we get to know most of the characters- including, briefly, an account of the lives of the victims - Gary - despite his letters and the pages of conversation transcribed - really remains an enigma. Intelligent, besotted, a believer in karma...yet a double killer. Was it the prolixin - a drug forcibly administered on his previous time in jail? Was there something in his childhood?
The end is deeply sad, exacerbated by the last minute efforts to get a stay of execution, and Gilmore's uncertainty till the very end as to whether he would die.
This is a tour de force based on interviews with over a hundred people: Mailer observes that the collected transcripts would approach fifteen thousand pages.
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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
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If I feel like murder, it does not necessarily matter who gets murdered.", 2 May 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (Paperback)
Winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize, The Executioner's Song scrutinizes the life and death of Gary Gilmore, arrested and tried for the 1976 killings of two innocent men in Provo, Utah, during petty burglaries which netted him less than $250. Author Norman Mailer bases his novel on the one hundred interviews and hundreds of phone conversations he conducted with people involved in Gilmore's life, trial, and execution. He also examined all available police documents and court transcripts, and made many trips to Utah and Oregon to talk with witnesses and people who knew Gilmore,

Having had no contact with Gary Gilmore himself, Mailer maintains a reporter's distance, ultimately portraying Gilmore as a loser who got his "education" in the prison system in which he spent half his life, and turning him into a symbol of the sociopath for whom society has found no answer except the death penalty. The novel divides naturally into several sections: the gruesome crimes themselves, including Gilmore's mindset at the time, his background, and the effect of the crimes on his family and friends; the pre-trial maneuvering and the trial itself; the conviction and post-conviction appeals; and Gilmore's execution and its aftermath.

Gilmore is not presented sympathetically, though Mailer goes to great lengths to portray him accurately. Gilmore's unusually high IQ, his poetic letters to his girlfriend Nicole, and his admission of guilt and desire to pay for his crimes with his own death create a unique picture of someone who had both intelligence and a kind of honor. But neither Gilmore nor the psychologists could ever explain why he did what he did. One moment Gilmore says, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing," and another moment he says, "I've always had a choice."

Mailer takes the long view throughout the novel, which ultimately becomes an extraordinary study of a man facing justice and the extraordinary steps the judicial system takes to see that true justice is served--the agonies endured by friends, the sleepless nights of attorneys and judges, the soul-searching of those required to carry out the sentence, many of them Mormons who do not support the death penalty, and the frustration of Gilmore, who wants death and fears that he will be reprieved. A brilliant and complete study of the American way of life and those, like Gilmore, who cannot live within it, the novel is still excruciatingly long. The last half of the book, with the minutiae of the legal maneuvering, the post-trial activities, and the appeals could have been cut in half without sacrificing depth or truth. Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get enough of the character development, 27 Jan. 1998
By A Customer
In the beginning, you wonder "why so much detailed character development"? Later, you understand why. As you turn each page, you grow to truly understand the essance of each character's being. You start to relate. You find yourself able to accept some of the awful acts of Gary Gilmore and others in the novel, simply because you understand them.
This is a great book to take on a vacation, where you need something to keep you wrapped up for a week or so. My only complaint about the book is that is started to drag at the end. I think the last section could have been condensed and still had the same impact.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Great American 'Factual Novel', 23 April 2015
By 
Brian Hamilton "brianhamilton14" (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (Paperback)
Mailer really was at the height of his powers when he wrote this 'factual novel' about hardened criminal Gary Gilmore and how, during his short-lived release from prison, he robbed and murdered two men at gun point. What followed was Gilmore's arrest and the subsequent media furore when he insisted he be executed for the crimes. At a time when no convicted criminal had been executed in the US for ten years the storm that surrounded this case was of massive proporitions and Gilmore's subsequent execution by firing squad sent shockwaves throughought the nation and, indeed, the wider world.

So, in a nutshell, that is what the book is about. A true account of a criminal caught up in the cogs of the legal system. However, Mailer takes his time relishing over the saga, over 1000 pages all told. However, rather than relying on high-falutin writing or concentrating on forensic detail, he writes in a steady, almost conversational prose that has a charming simplicity to it. For example, he often ends a sentence with the intimate words 'you know?'

However, Mailer was never a man to hide his light under a bushel and his startlingly powerful insights are still present, only in this book they are wrapped and delivered in the guise of plain, unadorned writing. The impact of his searing insights are all the more powerful for this.

I have read a lot of true crime books over the years, 'In Cold Blood', 'The Gates of Janus' amongst many others and this book stands tall and proud among these exemplars.

The Executioner's Song contains many quaint turns of phrase and when read now, through the weight of years, it also reads as a time capsule that has preserved a detailed view of the psyche of the typical US citizen living in the late 1970's. This cranks the interest up even more.

In short, this book is utterly compelling, heart stopping, beautifully conceived and clearly a labour of love for the author.

It really is a classic of the highest order that deserves your attention, even though it demands you keep interest over 100 plus pages.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive tour of Criminality and the American justice system, 25 Sept. 2014
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This is a riveting read, which is just as well, because it's a long book! I was a child when these events occurred so have no particular memories, save a familiarity with the name.
It's an examination of Gilmore's life, crimes and punishment. But more than this, Mailer's account encompasses the stories of all the players: Gilmore's family, friends, his girlfriends, the lawyers, judges, the media and the victims and their families.
What struck me, is that, apart from the authors depiction of those victims, in the media frenzy that follows Gilmore's arrest, trial and the drawn out road to his execution, there is almost no mention made of them. It's all about Gilmore.
I got a sense of his nihilism, self absorption, lack of empathy and, what seems to me, feigned inner turmoil.
This extends to his girlfriend; her overriding obsession with him that eclipses entirely her role as a mother of young children; their correspondence, Gilmore's poetry, the various interviews and the adolescent suicide pacts.
The focus shifts to his demand for his death sentence to be carried out which polarises opinions and galvanises civil and legal activists. It also provides a fantastic stage for Gilmore and his girlfriend and they certainly knew how to play an audience. The media willingly provided that stage and everyone seems to be in it to see how much they can make!
This may seem like a very cynical interpretation and I am sure other readers will have many differing reactions to this story because Mailer himself isn't making any judgements. He gives you the whole enterprise, through interviews, transcripts, and letters. Then leaves the reader to make of it what they will.
I don't think I now have any clearer views on the death penalty or any insights into what makes a criminal like Gilmore.
The more I read, the less sympathy I felt for any of the people involved in the events. I kept waiting for Gilmore to say sorry for taking the lives of two innocent victims for no reason. To give a convincing account. It never happened of course.
So, to conclude, a comprehensive, masterful account; well worth the effort whatever your feelings about the subject matter. A good, unbiased, thorough tour of the underbelly of criminality and the justice system in America focused through the polarising lens of the Gary Gilmore farce. And his execution? Although I have strong reservations about this practice, in this instance: no great loss.
Good kindle copy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, 14 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) (Paperback)
Absolutely one of the most amazing novels in the English language, Norman Mailer was on fire with this one. The story of Gary Gilmore seemed sordid and not worth the effort, but Mailer took all that raw material and turned it into an epic love story-slash-tragedy where the characters pop off the page. This is a deep, amazing book that goes far beyond the true crime genre into "In Cold Blood" territory.
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The Executioner's Song (Arena Books)
The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) by Norman Mailer (Paperback - 6 July 1989)
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