The Executioner’s Song appeared at a time when critics (and Mailer himself) had become tired of the way his personality tended to dominate everything he wrote. He wanted to find a subject that would be bigger than his ego and that would force him to write in a different style. Presented with a massive amount of material by Larry Schiller, who had bought the rights to Gilmore’s story, Mailer found that he had hundreds of characters to work with, speaking on tape and in documents that amounted to a massive social novel which would ultimately cover virtually every region in the United States through the voices of people describing their involvement in Gilmore’s life.
Conducting new interviews and immersing himself in the thousands of pages of court record and press coverage, Mailer developed an objective, precise, spare voice that had the ring of authenticity, for it was a voice that did not seem to make any more of the experience than what a reader could observe in the accounts on the page.
The Executioner’s Song is divided into two parts, “Western Voices” and “Eastern Voices.” The first part begins with the release of Gilmore from prison and the efforts of his relatives to find him a decent job and place to live. Gilmore has trouble adjusting, coping with the everyday necessities of working, shopping, eating, and so on. He falls in love with Nicole Baker, a young woman he is sure he has met in another life, and...
(The entire section is 513 words.)