The Executioner's Song: Reading Journal - Book One

Reproducing my notes on the chunkster that is Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song over at the book club. 

Photo courtesy

Day 1: Part One - Gary

To echo your observation, Kuya, this appears to be an easy read. The narration cannot be any more straightforward, and that's an advantage to us considering that we're in for the long haul.

Gary seems to have a problem in his psyche, but I don't want to judge too hastily. He spent practically most of his life in prison, so that probably factors in as a major reason for his outrageous behavior. But, outrageous IS outrageous. He sounded so intelligent in his letters to Brenda that it felt like a disappointment when he began to take advantage of Vern and Ida's hospitality and generosity, and even broke his parole just to have a good time.

On that note, I have to say that I admire Brenda's parents for their welcoming attitude towards Gary. They gave him a lot of leeway and opened their doors without the least hesitation, and that's what people like Gary badly need: a second chance. It's now up to the ex-con, in this case Gary, how he'll take that chance to start rebuilding his life. Unfortunately, we might be expecting much too much from him.

As to your questions, to which I'll give my opinion:

(1) Nicole's situation, that is, having a child, is quite different from that of an ex-con. Whereas Nicole has nothing to prove to society in general, Gary still needed to convince the authorities that he has reformed so much so that giving back his absolute, complete freedom will benefit, not endanger, the society. Government wouldn't spend good tax money if an ex-con turns out unworthy of that coveted second chance.

(2) I'd be really scared, I will not be a hypocrite and deny it. But Gary is their relative, so maybe if a close relative would come to me and tell me that he needs me because he'll be released on parole, I'll try my best to help out. But maybe not with my daughter around. :)

Just my two cents. :)

Day 2: Part Two - Nicole

Sex, whoring, drugs, lost childhood. I pity Nicole for having lost her innocence at a young age, and can't say that I can blame her for what she turned out to be. I don't want to call her names, but with everything that she went through - and she clearly did all of those things consciously - she can only be called a slut. She was in a nuthouse, giving the idea that she must have had a screw or two loose, but then her parents weren't completely blameless, either. They could have given her so much more, and if they had, maybe Nicole would have turned out a better person and not a maniacal, slutty woman.

Nice combination, haha. But they seem to complement each other well, and find that they have a kindred spirit in the other, so let's see how this unfolds in the next part. :)

Mailer hasn't said anything about Gary's closeness to Brenda's family yet, which included her parents, Vern and Ida, but we can deduce as much from Brenda's and Gary's childhood, when they spent a lot of time with each other. Brenda had fond memories of both Gary and Aunt Bessie, Gary's mother, and Brenda kept corresponding with Gary through letters all the time when Gary was in prison. So I thought they were as close as families can get, and it was only natural that Gary would come to them when he was released on parole. :)

Does he look scary to you? Or insane?
Day 3: Part Three - Gary and Nicole

The trouble with non-fiction, or books based on true events, is that they tend to be monotonous. The author can of course take liberties with the storytelling, but because he is constrained to just stick to the bare facts, I would imagine how difficult it would be to improve on the prose. Such is the case with this book, which although quite readable, tends to become overly boring.

But that's not to say that Part 3 wasn't entirely interesting. In this part, Gary's relationship with Nicole takes a wrong turn, and every single thing that is wrong about Gary's psychological makeup begins to show. Why would he hit a woman, and someone whom he supposedly loves? Why would he shoplift six-packs? Why would he hit cars and run into trouble with the law despite full knowledge that he was merely out on parole? Why would he (and Nicole) engage in deviant sexual conduct with a minor? Why would steal a horde of guns? Why would he steal speakers from a drive-in? Why, why, why?

Nicole is as screwed up as Gary is, in my opinion, but Nicole managed to get a grip on her life before it became way too late, if it isn't already. For the many wrong decisions she's done in her life, staying away from Gary is the most intelligent move she's ever made. At least, when she finally stood firm on her resolve to keep away from him, she had already proven how much she did love him when she went to Pete and threatened to kill him should he continue to press charges against Gary. Whereas, for Gary's part, I didn't see how he was able to show Nicole how he appreciated her. Nicole is still the slut that she is, but between her and Gary, she had more of a future than he has.


There are times when I felt like Mailer is fooling me. Rosebeth - the 17-y/o sex kitten. OMG, is it possible?

We are much too conservative in our culture for this kind of sexual deviancy, but I think that yes, it IS possible.

...and then one time he does not even have enough money for a new battery yet he has money to buy for six pack (beer, right?) and the drug Frional(?).

Indeed, what was Gary thinking all those times??

I looked up Fiorinal and found that it is a brand of aspirin/butalbital/caffeine, usually used as a pain reliever. Here are a couple of helpful links:

What Fiorinal is
On Fiorinal Addiction

Just because they presented good conduct in jail doesn't make them any better or less than a criminal.

Parole is for the purpose of giving a convicted criminal a second chance at life, for reform. This is because man is innately and morally good, and penal laws look into this innate goodness to reveal itself after the meting out of the punishment/penalty upon a convicted person. Doesn't everybody deserve a second chance? :)

Day 4: Part Four - The Gas Station and the Motel

It would turn out that the two places mentioned in Part 4 are the scenes of Gary's consecutive murders - locus criminis in Latin, and as we call it in legal terms. Poor Max at the gas station, and innocent Ben from the City Center Motel. Lives wasted, and for what?

When Nielsen was interviewing Gary in jail, attempting to elicit a confession, he kept asking Gary, Why? Why did you kill those guys? This was exactly what I had been asking myself since the beginning. What was actually going on in Gary's head? I felt like there was something wrong with him psychologically. I especially thought about that part when he killed Max in the gas station bathroom: when he first fired against Max' head, he said, This one's for me. And then he fired a second shot and then said, This one's for Nicole. I was like, what the hell was that about?? Whatever did the guy do to him and Nicole to deserve such a cold-blooded death?

The story is getting interesting so far, but I am fearlessly predicting that this is as interesting as it can get. After the actual murders, the legal processes and trial are routine and may become, well, too legal for readers who are not too familiar.


And no more sex this time. Even Gary and Nicole's sister did not have sex inside the hotel. Good.

Haha! It seems that you've had enough of the sex talk. Pampainit lang daw yun, haha! :D

Oh, and Nicole's sister's name is April. Crazy girl. :))

Day 5: Part Five - The Shadows of the Dream

[Was that a long read or what? Whew!]

The first half of Part Five was a narration about who Gary was from the perspective of Bessie, his mother. Through Bessie's memories, we are given a glimpse of who Gary was as a child: precocious, just like any other, but already showing signs of being disturbed. Bessie attributes everything to Gary's discovery of his birth certificate showing that "Gary Gilmore" wasn't his true name. As a child, that must have had an impact on his young mind - that maybe he was an illegitimate child, that maybe his parents aren't who they really are. I would think that it was the event that made a tremendous impact on Gary's mental stability.

Nicole's attempt to kill herself because of Gary was just too crazy. But she had lucid moments when she knew that, in her words, she was in love with a man who was going to be dead. Sleeping around with random men seemed like Nicole's way of filling in the void that Gary's absence created, but she knew it wasn't enough.

While in jail, Gary befriends another inmate, Gibbs. They both size each other up, but I think Gary is far more mentally disturbed that Gibbs could ever be.

I have a couple of questions regarding this part:

(1) What was the "Oldness" that Gary had been referring to when he spoke of his dream, the one about him getting beheaded and that had been recurring ever since he was a child?

(2) Was Gary referring to razor blades as that "Silver Sword" that he is in control of? Or a way to die in general?


Kasi sex is always part of our lives and if Sigmund Freud is to be taken seriously, everything boils down to it parang sabi nya.

True. I cannot agree with you more that sex is part of the narration - it could even be a means of making the reader understand the kind of relationship that Gary and Nicole shared. :)

I am enjoying the book, too! It is a laborious read, but since it is quite readable, I have no problem with its length at all. :)

And finally, just because I didn't know how hacksaw blades look like:

hacksaw blade

Day 6: Part Six - The Trial of Gary Gilmore

I haven't even finished reading this part, but already my head is bursting with things to say!

Okay, first. Gary's court-appointed attorneys, Esplin and Snyder, are clearly up against the wall from the moment the case was tossed onto their laps. There was a part in the narration that said that the prosecution had very tight circumstantial evidence - that if the evidence that was available to them were to be translated into the alphabet, then A to Z would be complete, with just a couple of letters missing and maybe one that is smudged. Otherwise, the case might as well have ben won from the very beginning.

The part about psychotic vs. psychopath was much too technical and medical for me that I glossed over it. I thought it was a long and tedious portion that merely served to demonstrate the efforts of Esplin and Snyder to get an insanity plea for Gary, to no avail. As opposed to what I had been speculating sine the beginning, Gary had no trace of insanity, mental disturbance, or mental problem at all. He appeared to be fully in control of his mental and emotional faculties, making his defense practically inexistent and his lawyers' lives hell. Also, the absence of any mental problem leads to the conclusion that, yes, Gary is just one cold-blooded murderer.

The trial proper was simply a narration of what we already know: that the prosecution would be having a field day, that the defense is a lost cause. The witnesses are unimpeachable, the physical evidence much too clear. No wonder Gary was uncooperative: he knew there was practically nothing that can be done to save him.


If you were Gary's lawyer, what would you do?

Parang sumasagot lang po sa bar exams ang drama ko: It depends, Kuya. Kasi, the legal system in the US is very different from ours. Doon, jury system sila, so the judge is merely there to facilitate the proceedings and make sure that the rules of procedure are observed. Sa atin, we don't follow the jury system. The judge is the sole arbiter and person who will appreciate and weigh the evidence, and render judgment.

In Gary's case, and if it were tried in the US, I would do nothing different from those done by his lawyers. Malaking bagay ang jury votes, kasi maraming tao ang titingin sa ebidensya. Tapos, may human emotions din na factor - hindi mo alam, yung mga members pala ng jury, may mga asawa o anak na katulad lang nung mga pinatay ni Gary, so makakaapekto yun sa boto nila. So, if these murder cases were tried in the US, and I were Gary's lawyer, I'd have done the same thing that Esplin and Snyder did: try my best to discredit the prosecution witnesses, rest the case and hope for a chance on appeal. I could offer witnesses to create an alibi for Gary, but considering Gary's previous transgressions, that even all of his friends refused to help him, I don't think it would help any.

On the other hand, if Gary were tried in the Philippines, and I were his lawyer, there are 2 options available to me: I would present witnesses to create an alibi for Gary (in the Philippines, positive identification and corroborated alibi can do wonders, even from witnesses who did not see a thing), or bribe the judge. Haha! Kidding. :)


I am enjoying the book so far because I even learned a thing or two about the US criminal system: the difference between First- and Second-Degree Murder, and the fact that they even have mitigation hearings to determine the penalty to be meted out. Sa Pilipinas, kapag napatunayang ito ang krimeng ginawa mo, meron na agad karampatang parusa. Life kung life imprisonment, death kung death penalty.

Utah State Prison, where Gary was executed by firing squad

Day 7: Part Seven - Death Row

More perspectives as to who Gary Gilmore was - possibly attempts to make the reader understand his psyche. Grace, a family friend, describes who Gary was as far as she knew him. In he end though, she found that she wanted out.

Okay, WHY would Gary even entertain the idea of Nicole committing suicide for him? All I could think of is that he just can't bear the idea of anyone else having Nicole physically, not because of love. What a complicated mind Gary has!


Honestly, I don't know what to make of the part about their old house being haunted, and if it had anything to do, even, with Gary's personality. It sounds to me like a far-fetched idea to blame spirits or ghosts for the consequences of your actions, especially since all evidence point to the conclusion that they were deliberately done.

As to the rape, yes, I think that it may have had a negative effect on Gary, but remember that Gary eventually did the raping himself. The first incident, when he was the victim, may have seriously damaged his personality, and so he felt the need to take revenge. I remember reading something about how a lot of people didn't want to cross his path because he was vengeful and scary.

Also, the administration of Prolixin left its effects on Gary. Kung kinailangang i-administer yun sa kanya dahil sa sobrang pag-uugaling pinakita nya sa kulungan, siguradong nakasama yun sa kanya.

I also couldn't believe the hospitals in the US would turn Gaylen away. Akala ko dito lang nangyayari sa Pinas.

Finally: gaga talaga si Nicole. I might be merely misunderstanding her, pero para mag-isip syang magpakamatay para lang kay Gary at di nya naisip mga anak nya, ewan ko sa kanya. She might be right, then, in saying that her children are better off without her.

End of Book One, yay! :)


Anonymous said…
I really, really want to join this one, but LOTR1 ate one-third of my month. I admit I just skipped mostly on the text, but I will definitely return to this post once I'm already reading the book.
Monique said…
BUDDY: I actually feel sad that I'm not reading this with you, too. :(
Peter S. said…
Hi, Monique!

Would you believe that I read almost 20 years ago? I really enjoyed it so much that it made me a fan. I remember reading Ancient Evenings after it. Have you read this novel? I highly recommend it! It's Mailer's take on one aspect of ancient Egyptian history.

Now, about The Executioner's Song. Mailer's journalistic talents really come through in this novel, no? The details that he includes are impressive. Even the dialogue and the interviews are so nuanced that you feel that he must've carried a tape recorder with him at all times!

This book reads like fiction, I think. I guess it has something to do with Mailer's experience in novel writing. I'm not sure if this was the first nonfiction book that I've read, but I do recall that it made me want to explore more nonfiction.

Impressive notes on your reading journal, I must say.
Monique said…
Hi Peter!

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, so I tend to be choosy with the ones that I do read. So far, so good for this book.

This is my first Norman Mailer, so I'm afraid I don't have an idea what Ancient Evenings is. But since you recommend it so highly, I'll keep an eye out for that one.

True, this book reads like fiction. The accounts are very accurate, and I admire the guy for his diligence. The Pulitzer was well-deserved. :)

Popular Posts