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The Executioner's Song (Arena Books) Paperback – 6 Jul 1989
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"His greatest work was his 1979 epic The Executioner's Song… a masterpiece of reportage, fiction and stylistic writing" (Observer)
"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 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)
If you were enthralled by Capote's In Cold Blood, read The Executioner's SongSee all Product description
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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.
Mailer handles the material in journalistic style and if he makes judgements then it is perhaps in his selection of material rather than in any comments of his own.
Though long, it is an interesting read and case history.
My only warnings are.....it's very long and unnecessarily so in my opinion. It simply does not need the mini biographies of some of the supporting cast.
The other warning.....don't be put off by the scant reference to the victims of the murders. It annoyed me until I realized the focus of the book is on Dalmer and to mention the victims in detail would be a whole different book.
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