[Spoiler Alert: Maybe this goes without saying, but for those of you who know nothing about Gary Gilmore, the actual historical person upon which the novel is based, and “the activities” of which the novel (in the words of the author) “does its best to be a factual account,” this post will discuss some of those plot points. If you intend to read the novel ignorant of the facts (as I did), you might want to do so before reading this blog. You’ve been warned.]
The first thing I’ll say about The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (in fairness to Infinite Jest) is that it also took longer to get through than I expected. While Book One of the novel, entitled “Western Voices,” is a gritty, fast-paced, tension-filled sprint through roughly six months in the life of Gary Gilmore (from the time of his release from Marion Penitentiary in April 1975 to his arrest for the murders of Max Jensen and Benny Bushnell in October that same year), the second half of the book, “Eastern Voices,” though it spans only three months, slows down significantly in the congestion of the judicial back-and-forth leading up to his execution by firing squad on January 19, 1976. The difference in pace was astonishing, a near-whiplash effect. It was almost like reading two completely different books.
While reading the first half of the book, I even joked that if I wasn’t married and didn’t have a job, I could’ve easily ripped through the book in a week or two. Regardless of whether that statement was true, I found myself eating my words (and Mailer’s, slowly) reading the second half. Full of the inanity of legal tedium, the absurdity of the media circus, and a staggering increase of (mostly temporary) characters who fall in and out of the picture in just a handful of chapters — another journalist, another lawyer, another media mogul, another family member — many of these characters in some way involving themselves in Gilmore’s life (and death) in way that is profitable more to themselves than to Gilmore. Read more…