Described on its cover as “a true life novel,” The Executioner’s Song focuses on the last nine months in the troubled existence of Gary Gilmore, who, at the time Mailer wrote the book, was the first criminal executed in the United States in more than a decade. After spending nineteen of his pathetic thirty-five years behind bars, Gilmore finally faced a firing squad at Utah State Prison at 8:07 a.m. on January 17, 1977. Although generous with background information, Mailer concentrates on the details of this one man’s life between his release on parole from a federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, and his controversial death.
Under the sponsorship of his cousin Brenda, Gilmore comes to live in Provo, Utah, where his efforts to become a responsible member of society are not entirely successful. He meets nineteen-year-old Nicole Baker Barrett, and the two begin a tempestuous romance. After a quarrel, Gilmore embarks on a crime spree that results in two murders. During a gas station robbery, he kills the compliant attendant, Max Jensen, and he also puts a bullet through the head of Benny Bushnell, the night clerk of a motel that Gilmore holds up.
Apprehended and tried, Gilmore is sentenced to death for first-degree murder. He refuses to appeal his conviction, insisting, despite the intervention of numerous opponents to capital punishment, on his sovereign right to die. After the governor of Utah...
(The entire section is 483 words.)