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Shot in the Heart: One Family's History in Murder Paperback – 25 May 1995

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 May 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014016670X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140166705
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 2.6 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 382,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"One of the most beautifully written, moving nonfiction books published in the past five years." -- Deidre Donahue, "USA Today."
"Remarkable, astonishing... "Shot in the Heart" reads like a combination of "Brothers Karamazov" and a series of Johnny Cash ballads... chilling, heartbreaking, and alarming." -- Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times."
"Mesmerizing... riveting and immensely moving... "Shot in the Heart" is a gesture of sustained courage that just happens to be a page-turner." -- Daphne Merkin, "The New Yorker." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Gary Gilmore, the infamous murderer immortalized by Norman Mailer in The Executioner's Song, campaigned for his own death and was executed by firing squad in 1977. Writer Mikal Gilmore is his younger brother. In Shot in the Heart, he tells the stunning story of their wildly dysfunctional family: their mother, a blacksheep daughter of unforgiving Mormon farmers; their father, a drunk, thief, and con man. It was a family destroyed by a multigenerational history of child abuse, alcoholism, crime, adultery, and murder. Mikal, burdened with the guilt of being his father's favorite and the shame of being Gary's brother, gracefully and painfully relates a murder tale "from inside the house where murder is born... a house that, in some ways, [he has] never been able to leave." Shot in the Heart is the history of an American family inextricably tied up with violence, and the story of how the children of this family committed murder and murdered themselves in payment for a long lineage of ruin. Haunting, harrowing, and profoundly affecting, "Shot in the Heart exposes and explores a dark vein of American life that most of us would rather ignore. It is a book that will leave no reader unchanged. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very well-written. Well worth a read before or after reading the biography by Norman Mailer.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x88714318) out of 5 stars 116 reviews
69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89d85e94) out of 5 stars Still powerful years after putting it down 14 Jun. 2001
By Jeff Gammon - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As someone who grew up in Provo, Utah, the site of one of Gary Gilmore's murders, I was aware of his infamy during my youth in that staunch Mormon community. I faintly remember the hype surrounding his execution, as well as the premiere of "The Executioner's Song" years later. Perhaps it is emblematic of one's youth, but I don't think I took his crimes or emotional composition seriously. In fact, after watching "The Executioner's Song" on television, my friends and I took a drive to the motel where Gilmore murdered a desk clerk; we did it more for the sensation of being at the scene of the past crime than to commemorate the victim or to ponder the mind of the killer.
Fortunately, years later, I was able to read "Shot in the Heart," which still carries a strong emotional impact many years after the reading. Mikal Gilmore's recollections, insight, and unflinching writing create one of the most powerful books I've ever read.
Gilmore opens the door to a home that transcends the labels "dysfunctional" or "abusive." He takes us inside the house--and sometimes the heads--of those who lived a nightmare, and shows, among other things, how that experience caused one of his brothers to bury his emotions and become a lonely wanderer while it pushed another into a life of delinquency, crime, and murder. The book is a fascinating, first-hand study of the impact of the family dynamic, social and religious judgement, and civic injustice on the lives of an unassuming American family.
I sometimes scoff at the preponderance of five-star reviews on Amazon, but I cannot recommend this title more.
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89d890fc) out of 5 stars A BOOK FROM THE HEART 24 Jan. 1997
By Laura G. Carter - Published on
Format: Paperback
Once upon a time, there was a family named Gilmore. This family had four children: Frank, Jr.; Gaylen; Gary; and Mikal, the youngest. Gary became famous in 1977 when he challenged the federal and state capital punishment machinery and forced them to carry out the death sentence imposed upon him for the murders of two young Mormon men in Utah. He wanted death by firing squad and would settle for nothing less. Even the efforts of civil rights groups on his behalf impressed him not: he wanted to die and he scornfully dismissed their legal maneuverings. On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore got what he wanted: he was executed by a Utah firing squad, thus ushering in America's active revival of the death penalty.

Yet, Gary Gilmore was a person shaped by the events of his formative years and by the events which took place in his family. The Gilmore family was not a fairy-tale family: rather, it defined the word "disfunctional". The father, Frank, Sr., beat the mother, Bessie, in front of the children on more than one occasion. He beat the boys, too, reserving the worst of the white-hot heat of his inner anger for Gary. Gary's violent acts, and the fate he suffered, prove once more that it is the children who often pay for the sins of the parents. In this case, a child paid the ultimate price.

Today, two of the brothers are living and two are dead (Gaylen died in 1971 from complications from a stabbing in Chicago). In Shot In The Heart, Gary's brother, Mikal, a well-known writer for Rolling Stone magazine, breaks the silence and tells the story of the family's violent, abnormal history. With brutal honesty and candid, painful insight, he speaks for both the living and the dead.

Psychologists say that people doing so-called "grief work" following the death of a loved one must "tell the tale" of the loved one's life over and over in order to come to terms with their loss and what that loss means for those left behind. Mikal Gilmore neither condones the players in this tragic story, nor rationalizes the things they do to one another. He simply tells the tales not only of Gary, but also Frank, Sr., Bessie and the other children, with dignity and compassion, while the sorrow and pain bleed through every word, every page. One is tempted to think that the events related here are the product of some highly creative and immensely gifted writer and, in fact, they are: however, they are all true. Aye, there's the rub.

If there is anything good to be produced from this horrific family tree, it is the author himself. Despite his past, he emerged a survivor with a rare and shining talent - the ability to make you feel each word he writes, whether his subject is himself or another family member. Shot In The Heart should be required reading and I dare anyone to put it down until the last ghostly memory has been read on the last page of the last chapter.

The text is augmented by family photographs and conversations with other players in the saga of Gary Gilmore, including his girlfriend, Nicole. The most touching aspect, however, is the inclusion of some of Gary's own artwork, which often depicted children with huge, mournful eyes staring into space. There is something missing about these children; it's as though they are searching for something they don't have. Self-portraits? Undoubtedly.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89d8933c) out of 5 stars One that will stay with you a long, long time. 15 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Having read several family memoirs (most recently The Liars Club and All Over but the Shoutin', both of which I highly recommend) I feel this book is in a league all its own. Extremely sad and thought provoking, Mikal Gilmore has given us a page-turning saga of a family in crisis and also a glimpse of life within the Mormon church. This is a book that has stayed with me long after I turned the last page.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89d895e8) out of 5 stars Shot in the Heart (wr. by Mikal Gilmore) 20 May 2002
By Charles Tatum - Published on
Format: Paperback
This nonfiction effort, written by the younger brother of executed murderer Gary Gilmore (of "The Executioner's Song" fame) is one of the best books ever written about the downfall of a family.
Gilmore delves into the lives of his parents and brothers. His father, Frank Sr., was an older man who would run scams and con games, moving from town to town. He also married a half dozen times and fathered as many children under different aliases. Mikal's mother, Bessie, was a Mormon who grew up in another strange family, filled with death and belief in hauntings and spirits. Both parents beat their first three sons unmercifully. Frank Jr., Gary, and Gaylen seemed like normal little boys until their parents got done with them.
Mikal was the fourth son born, and probably got better treatment than the others. Frank Jr. disappeared after his brother's Gary execution, and was missing from Mikal's life for about ten years. Gary Gilmore spent most of his life in reform school and prison, before murdering two young men in Provo and being executed in Utah by firing squad. Gary's experiences in reform school, especially on his first night, is so horrible it is hard to forget (especially considering this type of behavior is happening to children). Gaylen was the third son, and almost as much of a criminal as Gary. He would end up dying young, the roundabout result of a mysterious stabbing that would not heal.
Gilmore's book, coming in at over 400 pages, is a fast paced read. He never tries to explain his brothers' behavior, and he does not defend them, he merely lays out the facts of their family's upbringing, and the reader experiences the shocking life the Gilmores went through. Mikal talks about his own experiences, and how his love of music eventually led to his career as a music journalist, writing for Rolling Stone.
There are revelations here that would seem right at home on a daytime soap opera if they were not real. Paternity, babies thought dead, marital affairs, greed, all are covered here, but in a manner that makes these incidents very sad. Television shows like "Jerry Springer" take these same kinds of lives and make them into a big joke and ratings booster, but when Mikal spits a half page venomous paragraph about an offhand comment by Maury Povich of the now defunct "A Current Affair," you realize those shows are put on the air to hurt, not inform or enlighten.
This is a terrific book, and might be able to help put your own family's problems in perspective. That petty fight with your sister-in-law over the TV remote will definitely pale by comparison. Mikal Gilmore has written a powerful and passionate book about a subject he knows better than anyone. I highly recommend it.
This book does contain enough material that it is not appropriate for children or young teens.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89d898b8) out of 5 stars A gorgeous, haunting book 6 Jan. 1999
By Tom Ehrenfeld - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have given and recommended this book to countless friends, and return to read it when my soul needs nourishment. Gilmore's book is one of those rare artifacts that live and breathe on its own. This is less a book than a living piece of music, one whose beauty is not bright and cheery yet whose light shines fiercely and passionately. Shot in the Heart astonishes me not only for the story it has to tell, but the craft with which the author has captured, and transcended his tale. He has transformed his family history into a gift for every reader.
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