Sunday, September 30, 2001

Review: The Executioner's Song

Gary Gilmore committed two murders in Utah in 1976. He was sentenced to the death penalty, but threw the state of Utah and the nation into turmoil when he decided not to appeal his sentence.

Norman Mailer won the 1980 Pulizter Prize in Fiction for The Executioner's Song. When I bought this book in June, I was eager to start reading it. He was 'a great author' I had wanted to read, especially Of a Fire on the Moon, which he wrote about the Apollo Space Missions.

It's an awe-inspiring book. 1000 pages devoted to Gary Gilmore, his crime, his trial, and his punishment. Along the way, Mr. Mailer paints portraits of Gilmore's family, the lawyers, judges, prison wardens, and media 'hounds' who would seek to profit from the 'rights' to Gilmore's story.

I didn't know Gary Gilmore was a real person. The Pulitzer Prize category this book won was 'fiction', but I didn't know that either. The book felt like fiction, a very rich fiction. However, as the details of the trial emerged, I began to realize this was based on very real events. About a month into the book, I avoided entering 'Gary Gilmore' into Google, because I was afraid to find out 'how it ended'.

After finishing this book, I'm surprised there was no mention of him during the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

If you don't want to know what happened, stop reading now!

The Gary Gilmore Memorial Society took pictures of themselves in the manner in which the execution took place.

Has Gary Gilmore's death stopped any murders? Has Gary's nearly perpetual incarceration throughout his young adulthood contributed to his murderous acts? Why do some women find themselves attracted to such a flawed person?

I wonder about these questions, as they seem to be the major themes in his book. However, there are many alleys into which Mailer ventures.

I found myself marveling at the 'system' of appeals, and the role of lawyers and judges, con-men, and informants. I learned about how only a few people really get to the heart of a story, and that 'the rest of the media' fight over the same piece of news. I read the life of the victims, and found out that they were good people, good Mormons, who probably didn't deserve this death. And I read about the executioners, and what exactly did they do after the sentence.

On Amazon, one reviewer claimed that they read it twice. I'm not sure if I could. Another reader claimed that they would never part with it. Definitely.

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