Published in 1979, Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning masterwork traces the demise of Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who commits a pair of pointless murders and becomes — at his own insistence — the first prisoner executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court’s 1976 reinstitution of the death penalty. Combining narrative journalism with novelistic detail, Mailer tells a tragic tale with quiet beauty, his writing as spare and rugged as the setting. Gilmore is a fascinating character, but he’s also a cipher through which Mailer can examine the nature of love and violence, the twistedness of fame and a warped criminal-justice system. Given the title, you know what’s coming but can’t turn away.
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