Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pretty Creepy Stuff

After reading The Executioner's Song, I felt restless. I walked around my house and thought about it. That's kind of what I do when I'm obsessing about something. Feed the cats, water the plants, stare out the window at the fallen snow, while something tickles my brain. The book raised so many questions, and answered so few. Perhaps, that was it's purpose. Probably.

With so many loose ends, my mind was left with a craving for resolution, a need to make sense out of the senseless; I couldn't leave it alone. Besides, as inspiration/research for Umbra, I was left empty handed. Mailer wrote The Executioner's Song in a Hemingway-esque style. Lots of cutting. What happened before, what came after, is told through the hazy filter of statements of the involved parties, accepted as fact.

And that felt unsatisfying. So, I searched for more thorough answers and found: Shot In the Heart. It's a book written by Gary Gilmore's youngest brother. About ten pages in, I felt Mailer had robbed us of vital truth by excising the nine months of Gary's life from the bulk of the 34 plus years before. The severing of present from past created a story with little intrinsic meaning. No matter how fashionable it might be to focus upon surface details and statements alone, emotionally and psychologically, perhaps even spiritually, it's the equivalent of literary junk food. There's no meaning and thus no nourishment. That's fine, but at a more fundamental level it's a lie.

I have to say, if you've read The Executioner's Song, then Shot In the Heart should be read as a companion. The Executioner's Song is the husk, Shot In the Heart is the seed. The Gilmore family life was horrific. Gary Gilmore was a devastating intersection of nature vs. nurture. To the worst qualities of both his parents, he added a few of his own.

It made me think of two things: We're all tips of an iceberg, our personal histories, and our family legacies buoyant beneath the surface. And yet, there is a line we each must cross to become individuals, and that is the line where we assimilate our family legacies, the riches and shameful qualities, and move into taking responsibility for our own actions.

The other thing is this: Every family has its dark aspect. Since the past can never be undone, simple acceptance seems to be the only real avenue to moving forward. But the journey to bedrock acceptance is fraught. Along the way religions, psychologists, social workers, politicians, and well-meaning others insert their philosophies.


The dark aspects of Gilmore's family were ferocious. Gary Gilmore's mother was Mormon. Polygamy and Blood Atonement, early precepts of the Mormon Church, infiltrated his family. Although his father wasn't Mormon, for practical purposes he practiced polygamy. Gary's mother and her four sons were the last in a long line of many wives and families that Frank Gilmore left scattered across the country. As for Gary's insistence that he be executed by firing squad, it fulfilled the Mormon ideal of Blood Atonement. Pretty creepy stuff.

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