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The Executioner's Song ()

Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) (1980)

I wonder if all modern societies have the same tendency to fetishize criminals as we do?  Mailer after all is notorious for getting Jack Abbott out of prison, only to have him stab a guy in a diner.  William F. Buckley, Mailer's long time nemesis, and a man who should have known better, had his own pet criminal in the 70's.  Seemingly half the artists in America are trying to free the cop killer Mummia Abu-Jamal.  Republicans have G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North.  Democrats have everyone from Clinton to the IRA to the PLO to FALN and so on.  Of course, the media culture is just drowning in criminals.  We've got OJ trials, the Ramseys, the killer Nanny, Andrew Cunanan, the Menendez brothers, Columbine, etc. and etc. and etc.  And that's just the real people; never mind the fictional creations like Hannibal Lecter.  And we study them and advocate for them and argue about them as if they were talismans or held some kind of secret knowledge that they could reveal to us.  In the end, perhaps it just boils down to a fascination with evil.

Whatever the case, where The Executioner's Song may have once been a compelling look into the world of a criminal and at the machinery of justice, with the added cachet of the nation's first execution in decades, now it all just seems so wearyingly familiar.  Just take the execution angle, not only is the death penalty no longer an issue, we actually live in a country where a liberal Democrat running for President felt like it was good politics to fly home from the campaign trail in order to execute a retarded inmate.  I'm afraid there's just no longer any dramatic tension left in this story.

It is probably Mailer's one unarguably good book, but events have caught up to it and rendered it little more than a mildly interesting anachronism.  And even using fictional techniques, it should not be considered a novel and certainly should not have gotten a Pulitzer for Fiction.


Grade: (B-)


Norman Mailer Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Norman Mailer
    -INTERVIEW: Norman Mailer Ruminates on Literature and Life (NY Times, 1/22/2003)
-ESSAY: Norman Mailer’s Ripe Garbage: The making of a reactionary blockbuster (Rob Madole, April 26, 2023, The Baffler)
    -ESSAY: Norman Mailer: my sweet, generous friend: Norman did not put his trust in princes, but in himself, like Papa Hemingway before him (Taki, February 25, 2023, Spectator)
    -TRIBUTE: “A forceful style, an urgent style”: Norman Mailer at 100 (Library of America)
    -ESSAY: The Future President and the Novelist: When Norman Mailer Met John F. Kennedy: Richard Bradford on Political Mythmaking and Self-Delusion (Richard Bradford, January 17, 2023, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Norman Mailer Wasn’t Canceled: What’s most striking about the Mailer contretemps is how it embodies so many aspects of the current discourse around cancel culture and free speech. (David Klion, FEBRUARY 2, 2022, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Everything you need to know about Norman Mailer’s recent (non-)cancellation ( Emily Temple, January 5, 2022, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Norman Mailer can’t be cancelled: He stabbed his wife and still ran for mayor (Tomiwa Owolade, January 6, 2022, UnHerd)
    -REVIEW: of The naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (David Dempsey, The New York Times, May 9, 1948)
-ESSAY: The Importance of Norman Mailer: Sexist, violent, and a brazen self-promoter, the midcentury giant of the American novel is no longer in style, but he still has a lot to teach us. (David Masciotra, February 16, 2023, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Tough Guy: the Life of Norman Mailer by Richard Bradford (Paul Perry, Independent ie)
    -REVIEW: of Tough Guy    -
-REVIEW: of Mailer’s Last Days: New and Selected Remembrances of a Life in Literature (Ronald K. Fried, Millions)

Book-related and General Links:
-ESSAY: Discovering Jack H. Abbott (Norman Mailer, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: Death for Sale  (Diane Johnson, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Norman Mailer, Gary Gilmore, and the Untold Stories of the Law (Simon Petch, Australian Humanities Review)
    -Norman Mailer: State Author 1991-1993 (NY State Writers Institute)
    -REVIEW: of IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST Letters from Prison. By Jack Henry Abbott. Introduction by Norman Mailer. (Terrence Des Pres, NY Times Book Review)
    -At Random Magazine: Norman Mailer
    -The Revolution in Journalism with an Emphasis on the 1960's and 1970's (Belinda Carberry)
    -ESSAY: It is absurd to claim that men are the real victims of oppression  'It was always odd that Norman Mailer became so inextricably identified with the sexual revolution'  (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Independent UK)
    -Great Expectations: Why is Norman Mailer still Famous?  (Terry Teachout, National Review)
    -Twilight of the Old Goats--Mailer, Roth and Bellow refuse to go quietly  (D.T. MAX, Salon)
    -Beat the Devil (LOUIS MENAND, NY Review of Books)
    -Keeping Up With Norman Mailer (THOMAS R. EDWARDS , NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Mailer: A Biography By Mary V. Dearborn  A Frank Look at a Literary Giant
(Steve Weinberg, Iron Minds)
    -REVIEW ESSAY:  THE REANIMATORS: On the art of literary graverobbing (Jonathan Dee, Harper's Magazine, June 1999)
Discussed in this essay:

 The Hours, by Michael Cunningham.
 The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer
 Ragtime, by E. L. Doctorow
 Libra, by Don DeLillo
 The Public Burning, by Robert Coover
 I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn
 John Wayne: A Novel, by Dan Barden
 The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald
 Arrogance, by Joanna Scott
 The Master of Petersburg, by J. M. Coetzee