How did I end up reading The Executioner's Song during the last week of the year? It was a circuitous route to be sure. I came across an article on line, Happy F**ckin' Birthday (with Apologies to Norman Mailer) by none other than Monica Lewinsky. Apparently, they ran in the same circles. (Or she and his children did...) In the article, Lewinsky writes that during college as a psychology major, out of all Mailer's books, The Executioner's Song had the greatest impact on her. I became curious. Then I bought it for my kindle. The Foreword by Dave Eggers is pretty glow-y, as far as what Mailer accomplished as an author.
Then I began reading, and I admit, I was hooked, and read the entire thing, finishing it on, of all nights, Christmas Eve. It left me quiet and thoughtful. The first thing that came to mind was how un-dated it is. Gary Gilmore was killed by firing squad on January 17, 1977. This same story could have been told almost forty years later. Except that there were at least seven executions in the United States in 2014. What if Norman Mailer had written a 1000 page book about the life story of each of those seven? How similar, or dissimilar, would those stories have been to the one told in The Executioner's Song?
I asked myself that question, because when all is said and done, Gary Gilmore, as in individual, did not strike me as someone distinctly worthy of the place in the limelight that The Executiioner's Song afforded him. I suspect there are people who have been executed after him who have more interesting stories and/or personalities. But Gilmore was the first to be killed by the state after a moratorium of a decade. His insistence that his death be carried out, in spite of the ACLU, NAACP and other "interested parties" filing lawsuits against it, was perhaps, the single distinguishing characteristic of his entire life story. And yet, that insistence was likely due to what emerged as his two predominant character traits: Impatience and defiance. A man who spent the majority of his life, I mean the majority—20 plus years out of 35 on the planet—Gilmore managed to commit two murders in cold blood, get convicted of one and sentenced to death, and be executed in nine short months, between April 1976 and January 17, 1977.
If I were asked to distill The Executioner's Song into five words or less, I would use a quote from the book itself. A statement made by Pete Galovan to Nicole Baker, "Your man is far gone."
Impatient and Defiant. I'll add hollow. Hateful. Contemptuous. And charming. Gary Gilmore was a con man through and through.
So why are these grim subjects on my radar at this Supposed-To-Be-Joyous time of the year?
In the midst of working through revisions of Isolt's Enchantment and Half Mortal, I find myself mentally preparing to write the final book of the Daughter of Light trilogy, War & Grace... and as I meditate on Umbra... I find myself scavenging the dark.