Norman Mailer – The Executioner’s Song

8c04198ae39c25659794a6f62414141414d6741This is the first book that I have finished in 2015. I never ever in a million trillion years would have thought that this project would have taken this long, or would have seen so many twists and turns in Drew and my life as it has. I post now that this is the first post that I will do this year, and I hope that this is also the last year that I will be posting anything. God, how I hope and pray that this is the last year we will spend doing this project. Recently I bought two books from Barnes and Noble, Pulitzer Prize winning authors’ new books, as a carrot on a stick for me to finish soon as I would really like to read these books. I was just recounting to someone the other day who didn’t know about this project, that I have only read one other book not on the list, for fun, while doing this project, and that book was The Hobbit. It was fantastic. I look forward to selecting the books I want to read myself. Alas, (to steal a word from Mailer’s Afterword) I still have 12 more to read, so I shuffle on with this review and those to come.

This book is dark. It is a very dark book that at times was very difficult to read. One interesting intersection with my life while reading this book was that I also got on the Serial Podcast junkie train and followed along to another true crime thriller that captures the nation’s attention. Unfortunately, like Gilmore’s case and Mailer’s acclaim for this book, both will filter on down the current of pop culture that do not keep our national attention as maybe the uproar around Gilmore’s crime and Adnon’s situation as we might have hoped. Both situations are tragic for many reasons, some of them are similar, I don’t mean to detract from that. What I do aim to say is that while both subjects and circumstances are tragic, the storytellers’ renderings of them caught the nation’s attention for a short time, and by the nation’s attention, I do mean it seems like Serial today, The Executioner’s Song and Gilmore’s case seemed to be front page news. Both storytellers delivered incredibly told incredible stories. I loved parts of Mailer’s and Koenig’s work. They are different in tone and presentation, but they both deal with dark subject matter and the parsing through intimate and haunting details of grim events in oddly alluring ways. Mailer takes you to this place. You know Gilmore and Baker better than I know real people in my own life. Mailer has a gift for clearly delivering to the reader the actualness of these events in a convincing and meaningful way. Sarah Koenig of Serial made an entire nation care about a 15 year old crime and the plight of one young man’s imprisonment, although ultimately did not convince probably even herself, that he was innocent which is an amazing feat. What I hope now to posit here is that soon enough these events will be entirely forgotten. Serial will even in and of itself go one to capture other stories for us, Mailer wrote other books. The Pulitzer Committee chose this book as it is an epic feat in American Literature, the urgency behind this book has all but evaporated. The cultural resonance is gone. My take away from this work and its masterpiece is that I did not know a single thing about this book, its subject matter, its long since past cultural import, and yet I was gripped by this novel at points. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen as it is easy to infer from the nature of the story, I needed to see it end, and end it did in some slight level of magnificence.

I would not recommend this book to anyone. It was too dark at points for a casual reader. True crime people be prepared for the rest of your genre to be ruined for yourselves, as I have little experience in this genre, but know that this is the greatest example ever penned. There is nothing to hold onto in this book. It is a tragic and disturbed story about a tragic and disturbing man and disturbed young woman. I cared for them as it turns out in the end so did all the prison guards, lawyers, journalists, and writers did. Mailer certainly did and you can feel his warmness, not gentleness, but warmness and fondness towards the characters. There are a few ‘too fine a point’ moments placed on the some facts in the end. And the entire second half of the novel was meaningless to me and that is saying a lot, it is 1000 pages. Despite these overwhelming annoyances, and the fact that I was thoroughly disturbed by this book at points. I will look back on reading it fondly. Now, where to next?

In a slight aside, another interesting intersection is that I also watched the entire first season of True Detective while reading this book, so at one point I was thoroughly disgusted with mankind and the law’s terrible convergence with crime and human sin. I have since recovered from that dark place in my mind, and finishing all of those stories is a big part of coming out of the woods.


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