The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

December 18, 2009

executioners song Plot summary: The Executioner’s Song is sometimes described as a “quasi-documentary” about the life and execution of Gary Gilmore, a “spree killer” who gained notoriety as the first person put to death after capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Norman Mailer cobbled the book together out of extensive interviews with Gilmore’s family and friends, as well as with the family and friends of Gilmore’s two victims, Max Jensen and Bennie Bushnell.

The book begins by describing Gilmore’s teens and early 20’s, when he first started getting into trouble. I can’t tell you much more than that because I didn’t get very far with this one.


Absolutely nothing. I usually try to pick at least one thing I liked about a book, but that’s impossible to do here.


  • I thought Mailer’s writing style was godawful, and can’t believe that this book won a Pulitzer Prize. Take a look at the following typical passage:

    “What,” asked Gary, “is a Smokey report?”
    “That,” said Brenda, “is the name for the police.”
    “Hey,” asked Gary, “are you going to turn me in?”

    Ugh, it got so damn annoying to have nearly every single line of dialogue interrupted by “asked Gary” or “said Brenda” after the first word. That style completely fucked up the flow of the book and made it so I simply couldn’t continue further.

  • As someone not familiar with Gary Gilmore or his crimes, I wasn’t captivated by the story right from the beginning. Mailer didn’t do much to try to draw readers in. It was very easy for me to chuck aside this book in favor of watching a movie, checking Facebook and emails, etc.
  • The Executioner’s Song was the first Norman Mailer book I ever attempted. If his writing is always like this, it will also be the last.
  • I only tried reading this title because it’s on the Observer’s list of the Top 100 novels of all-time. How it made it there is beyond puzzling.
  • Just in case you’re curious, I completed only six percent (Kindle version goes by percent, not page numbers) before giving up.

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