A Year of Big Books

one man, one year: one-thousand-page novels

Breathing Room

normanmailerI started The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer on Sunday: what a change of pace. Literally.

Dave Eggers is not kidding when he writes that “it’s the fastest 1,000 pages you’ll ever know” in the novel’s foreword.

I’m over 120 pages into the novel in just 2 days of reading, and let me tell you, that in itself is such a relief. Infinite Jest was a brilliant novel, but reading it often felt like being suffocated by the words on the page. Wallace’s paragraphs can be, well, foreboding, and they have a tendency of being several-page-long blocks of black and mind-numbingly detailed text.

With Mailer, I feel like I have some breathing room. Even (for the sake of comparison) on a paragraph level: Mailer’s are short and simplistic, straightforward, and almost every paragraph has a double-spaced separation between it and the following paragraph (much like your typical blog *wink*). While in most novels this designates a section break, this is not always the case with The Executioner’s Song (in fact it’s more often not the case). Several individual vignettes are spread out across broadly spaced paragraphs, like sights along the highway in the Utahan desert (where the novel mainly takes place).

This spacing style carries over into the novel’s structure, which is very segmented, but in a good way: there are so many section breaks in The Executioner’s Song that, if you don’t feel like moving at the quick pace of the novel, you can stop at almost any point you want. The novel is split into two books (Western Voices and Eastern Voices), each book consists of seven parts, each part is divided into several chapters, each of which also contain roughly 3-7 (let’s call them) subchapters. Like I said, lots of places along this desert road to stop.utah

So far, without going into too much detail, from a plot standpoint, Mailer has introduced the main character of the novel, Gary Gilmore, having just gotten out of prison, now living with the family of one of his cousins. He went into jail as a teenager and is, now in his mid-thirties, trying to readjust to life outside. Hints of something dark beneath the surface are slowly appearing as Gary has a harder and harder time in his new life.

This novel was originally published in 1979 and, though fiction, purports to be an historical account of actual events in the life of Gary Gilmore, who was a real, living, nonfictional person. What I know of the apparently notorious Gary Gilmore is basically zilch — and (upon recommendation of Dave Eggers in his foreword) for the sake of suspense, I intend to keep it that way. The last paragraph of Part One of his foreword is as follows:

Reading [Gary Gilmore’s] story without knowing the outcome will only enhance the experience — it gives [Mailer’s] book unimaginable tension and scope — and so I urge you to read nothing more of this introduction, which will discuss some of the issues the book raises and will reveal too much. Come back to these pages only after you’ve read the book, if you come back to them at all.

Pretty exciting, right? I’m looking forward to it: all 1109 pages of the novel (including an afterword and appendix), and the six remaining pages of Mr. Eggers’ foreword.


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A Year of Big Books

one man, one year: one-thousand-page novels

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