The Executioner’s Song

1086 pages plus an after forward, just in case 1086 pages wasn’t enough.

That’s what I was in for if decided to take Norman Mailer’s ‘The Executioner’s Song’ off the bookshelf

Dave Eggers was quoted on the cover as saying it will be the quickest 1000 pages you’ve ever read.

But could he be trusted? Was this just a literary man’s plea for the work of another titan not to go unread? Or did he genuinely like the book as much as he said?

My hand hovered over the weighty tome and an inner voice said ‘Do it!’

I breathed deeply in the same sort of way I do when I’m about to lift a barbell and made for the cashier.

Nine days later, battered but not beaten, I can proudly say I made it through ‘The Executioner’s Song’ unscathed. I am now in a position to bring it up at dinner parties when I want to impress guests with my erudition AND my stamina.

Norman Mailer

Aside from bragging rights, I can also say that Dave Eggers was not lying. This book is utterly compelling. A real page-turner that simply lets the reality of events take their course.

For 8 nights running I choose to forego the company of friends and spent the night in with Mailer and a powerful fan to deal with the sweltering New York heat.

Who needs people when you’ve got a great book?

Spending your nights in the company of a killer however, is sobering and not a little frustrating. Gary Gilmore is not a simple man but he is a deeply flawed one. Mailer brilliantly shows him in his entirety without ever given into to the desire to dismiss him as just a sicko.

What we are presented with is a man who seems astonishingly immature and adolescent for a 35 year-old and whose decision-making process seems to be devoid of even the most basic common sense.

Of course we ask the question ‘why is this?’ in our heads many, many times and the book presents us with many people, from relatives to lawyers to Gilmore himself, who attempt to answer this question.

Yet whether people are committed Mormons or committed Liberals, whether they are for the death penalty or against it, none seem to have that elusive ‘aha’ moment that leads to a satisfying answer. Even when in some cases they are looking for an answer that would help with a narrative they could sell to the army of producers and media moguls who want rights to the story.

Indeed perhaps the most sickening thing about the book, aside from the murders themselves, is the media circus that occurs around it. The feeding frenzy of people who long for exclusives and film rights to satisfy the ghoulish desires of the general public, desires that have not abated with time. Being a killer is still one of the simplest ways to get you notoriety in modern society.

If you wish to see a portrait of crime in the media age that feels as relevant now as the day it was written, check out this painstakingly researched and plainly written tome. And cancel all your plans for the coming week.

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