The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer
At 1072 pages, The Executioner's Song is the longest novel I've ever read. It took me all of 12 days to take it down, which, if you were to ask me, I would say is respectable. Earlier this year I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and really enjoyed it. The Executioner's Song is very much in the same realm of "creative non-fiction" and has a very similar premise--the account of small town murders and the legal processes leading to the execution of the killer. Mailer tackles the execution of Gary Gilmore in the state of Utah.
I would never hand this book to someone with the expectation they would actually read it, despite any recommendation or glowing praise I could give it. I do however, know many folk I would love to recommend this book to. The story takes place in Utah. Chapter 4 is titled "The House in Spanish Fork."
Now, here is where I really diverge from reviewing and tell you about my experience while reading this... Spanish Fork, UT happens to be the town I grew up in. It also happens to be pretty off the charts as far as publicity and cultural relevance go-- In the 1994 blockbuster hit 8 Seconds (you know, that bull riding movie? oh wait you didn't see it??) they mention (in an offhand comment) going to the Spanish Fork rodeo and, I'm telling you, my dad insisted on rewinding it over and over (did you catch it? did you hear him say Spanish Fork??). It's one of the very few times Spanish Fork has had recognition--So imagine my surprise to see this rich story (although I knew it was set in Utah) weaving intricately (remember it's 1072 pages, that's a lot of detail) in and around an area I am so profoundly familiar with. I don't know how to explain it, what a trippy feeling, what an amazing connection to a book that I have never been able to make before. Reading the dialect, geography, culture, ideology, etc. of my hometown bottled up in these pages so eloquently (it won the Pulitzer) was hypnotizing. Even crazier still was reading it outside of Utah where I have spent damn near my entire life. The distancing element + the accuracy to which Mailer recounts the geography and culture of the story = for me, a once in a lifetime feeling.
Throughout Book 1 of The Executioner's Song, I was absolutely captivated by the narrative of Gary, Nicole, and the story of their relationship. Book 2 delves more heavily into the legal proceedings of the case, the sentencing, and mayhem that followed--at times Book 2 felt a bit exhaustive. Interestingly, however, Book 2's exhaustive detailing is giving the reader exclusive insight to how the book has come to be, self-consiously. All of the aspects: transcribing, the handling of letters and information, the selling of information, media outlets and story rights, etc., all of it manifests itself -- and you hold it's pages in your hands. By reading the book you complete the unspoken third leg of the story and bring profound relevance to hundreds and hundreds of pages. It's pretty neat.
Movie time? I'm really curious to see how it looks on film...