Tag Archives: literature

Executioner’s Song

Art and literature editor of Hollywood Sentinel, Moira Cue is reviewing, in no particular order, every Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel ever written. An award winning artist, Moira was an undergraduate and graduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Portrait of Norman Mailer
The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer, is one of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels (or works of fiction) that later became a movie, although, in this case, it was a television movie (with Tommy Lee Jones, who won an Emmy).

At a whopping 879 pages, it will take on average 23 hours to read (at 250 words per minute)—just slightly shorter than the 28.5 hours it would take the same reader to complete the 960 page Gone With The Wind. As super long novels usually go, it’s epic, and contains several periods of time that in and of themselves have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

What makes this story unusual is that the book is not just fiction. It’s docu-fiction, a hybrid of documentary and fiction. The style is like that of many novels, but it is based on a true story, and took months of research.

Fun Fact: The slogan “Just Do It,” which you may associate with Nike running shoes, was inspired by a vicious double murderer, named Gary Gilmore, executed by the State of Utah in 1977. Gary not only inspired an executive to create an ad slogan that was later trademarked by Nike, but he inspired Norman Mailer to write this book that won the Pulitzer, despite its macabre topic and criticism of glorifying violence and criminality. The character created by Mailer is sympathetic, while the victims of his murders, both LDS (Mormon) are treated contemptuously. Despite its moral flaws, the book is an addictive read, and, if you’re like me, you’ll ignore other obligations just to squeeze in a few more pages.

Gilmore was a politically relevant person because he was the first person executed for murder by the United States (in 1977) after the reinstatement of the death penalty (in 1966, after a period of approximately ten years). As such he became an unwitting celebrity. (On December 11, 1976, Saturday Night Live host Candice Bergen and the cast sang a Christmas-themed medley, entitled “Let’s Kill Gary Gilmore for Christmas.” After his death, he would also inspire punk banks and rock stars, playwrights, and avant-garde artists.

But Norman Mailer’s work is probably the most extensively based on interviews with friends and family before, during, and immediately after the circus leading up to the execution. The book sometimes reads like a newspaper expose. The language conveys a sense of motion, of an unstoppable something that led to Gilmore’s violent outbursts and became a surreal circus. It is a period piece, full of late seventies, early post-everything cynicism. The anti-hero becomes the hero.

Gilmore’s history included a childhood of delinquency and an early burglary. He spent so much of his life in institutions and jails that when he was released after serving 13 years for armed burglary, at the age of 35, he essentially needed to be cared for by sponsors (a cousin in Utah). He was emotionally younger than his age and had very little real-life experience with women. It was his relationship with Nicole Baker, a troubled 19 year old, that eventually pushed him over the edge. He killed a gas station clerk and motel clerk after their relationship fell apart. Back in prison, he was obsessive, poetic, and still wrapped up with Nicole. Almost as if the murders were to get her attention.

As a reader, you are manipulated by Mailer into caring about Gary the Celebrity, even as you see how the machinery of cultural distrust, anti-establishment ethos, and media hyperbole turned a sick, dysfunctional psychopath into a hero. You’re behind the curtain, which is less surreal and more ugly—but you find yourself caught up in the hype even though you know better, much like Mailer himself must’ve felt writing the story of a killer-turned unwitting Romantic nihilist icon.

This content is ©2018, Hollywood Sentinel, Moira Cue, all world rights reserved. Visit www.MoiraCue.com  

Poetry

I remember
When life was longer
When days were righter
When wrong was wronger
& I remember
in September
or was it March
perhaps December
when life seemed cleaner
grass was greener
people nicer
now mean is meaner
& I remember
before rendition
un-extraordinary
thought suppression
before they kidnapped
in orange jumpers
flew to Cuba
and hired humpers
for unillateral mind controlling
militarial sell your souling
Before the Catholics
raped little boys
before school shootings
made such noise
before big pharma killed the stars
before the psychs had passed up cars
in greatest deaths
in the land of the free
before America
lost her liberty

And I remember
one November
when I was younger, meek and tender,
when I gave my money to every bum I’d see,
When I lost my car, when I’d lose my keys,
when I’d settle for no,
when I’d always say please
when I’d fall down hard
when I bloodied my knees
when I’d tolerate abuse
when I used to get teased,

But now like the world,
I’m a different man
I stand up tall
I do the best that I can
I look at the bright side
I learn more each day
I master my mind
I think before I say
the words in my head
and the fire in my soul
I follow my bliss
without leaving a hole
I learn from my mistakes
and preferably theirs’
I made peace with myself,
I recited some prayers.

I finally learned
what life was for
to leave this place
better than before
it was when I
was without form
to make it better
because I was born
and because I lived
some others live too
ending their pain
and stopping the abuse

By Bruce Edwin

2014

Copyright 2014, 2016, Bruce Edwin, The Hollywood Sentinel, all rights reserved.