The thief and ruffian who is the subject of The Executioner’s Song was, despite his involvement in felonies and in a landmark legal case, quite unexceptional. Yet, under the scrutiny of 1,056 pages (pared, Mailer claims, from his fifteen thousand pages of notes), a five-pound volume that, as a representation of nearly two hundred human pounds, is nevertheless necessarily reductive, Gilmore’s existence begins to cast a spell. Appropriately, a strong possibility exists that Gilmore’s father was the illegitimate son of magician Harry Houdini, and with each detail that Mailer meticulously assembles, the story seems more and more bizarre.
In one of many letters that Gilmore sends to Nicole, he describes a Russian portrait of Jesus: “No halo, no radiant beam from heaven above. Just this extra-ordinary man—this ordinary human being who made himself extra-ordinary and tried to tell us all that it was nothing more than any of us could do.” Perhaps this is an expression of Gilmore’s messianic delusions, but it is also suggestive of the transforming power of the literary gaze. Mailer examines the mundane existence of an unskilled, insolvent, and muddled middle American, but he soon finds himself involved with the occult.
Among his cast of characters are those who subscribe to reincarnation, automatic writing, Ouija boards, numerology, and some of the more exotic tenets of Mormonism. Gilmore writes poetry, believes that he was...
(The entire section is 510 words.)