Wednesday, July 31, 2013

So Execute Him Already....

This week's question - What classic novel has struck me as a "naked emperor"?  Funny enough, Jane Austin immediately popped to mind but I see that Robin already beat me to it. So I'll go in the opposite direction.

I am a huge fan of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Read it, loved it, read it again, saw the movie. My day job is to produce true crime shows for television so I appreciate a well told, true crime story. In Cold Blood balances the stories of the victims, their killers, the lawmen, and the town, with compassion but also with an edge.

Someone, hearing I loved Capote's book, suggested I read  Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, the story of Gary Gilmore, who was executed in Utah in 1977. It won a Pulitzer and has been a used in discussions of capital punishment. It's an important book. It's also a long book - over 1,000 pages. The length was actually a vote in its favor. I read a lot of non-fiction history and biography, and I like it when they're long.

But, truth be told, I'm not a Norman Mailer fan. The relentless, endless machismo in all his work (And his personal life - he was married six times and once head-butted Gore Vidal...) gets on my nerves sometimes. Yeah, I get it, Norman. You're all man.

But, I like true crime, so despite my feelings about Mailer I starting reading The Executioner's Song.

And I was bored. Maybe it was the subject - Gilmore struck me as juvenile and uninteresting. Like so many murderers I've met in my years in TV, Gilmore was a narcissist who lacked impulse control. If he had genuine insight into his behavior, or anything redeemable about him, then I missed it. He was a main character facing a death sentence and I was almost as anxious for it to arrive as Gilmore was.

Or maybe it was Mailer's level of detail which was, at least to me, a bit obsessive. And then there was the "I'm tougher than you" posturing in Mailer's language. Again, I get it. You're all man. All heterosexual man. Maybe it was the fact that he was small, or maybe it's because his mother named him Norman, but at a certain point I began to wonder what he was compensating for.

Or maybe it was me.  Maybe I don't have sufficient gravitas or intellectual curiosity. I do work in TV after all.

In any case, I got about 600 pages in and then just gave up.

It's hard to admit that I don't like a celebrated American writer, who has won awards and accolades I never will (nor do I deserve), but there it is. If he were alive, Mailer would probably head butt me.


BWKnister said...

It's not you, it's Mailer. Unlike Capote whose motives and empathy for his subjects strike me as authentic, Mailer does in his true-crime book what he usually did: develop a subject mostly for its commercial possibilities. Unlike you, though, I am skeptical of all long books--length to me equals self-indulgence. I want to say to such authors: execute it already.

Catriona McPherson said...

Ha-ha! Laughing out loud again, Clare. "Maybe it's because his mother called him Norman" indeed.

Terry Shames said...

Oh, dear, I loved the Executioner's Song. But then I read it when it came out, and literary fashion changes. AND I thought Capote seemed creepy in In Cold Blood (although I liked it very much).

Okay, want to know what I stopped reading 50 pages from the end? Moby Dick. I said, Jeez, I get it, I get it! Told an English professor that, and he almost broke down in tears.

Clare O'Donohue said...

I'm so glad I wasn't tarred and feathered!

And I agree Terry, Capote did seem creepy but somehow that added to it for me as part of the whole surreal story. Whereas, as BWKinster pointed out Mailer's felt less like a story and more like a commercial enterprise...

And Catriona.... glad you agree, Norman is the kind of name that could scar a child.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

You didn't give up until AFTER 600 pages?! What a trooper! You deserve a medal!

Robin Spano said...

Maybe it's a man thing? I've never read Norman Mailer either but I agree: too much testosterone can ruin a good story.

Which Jane Austen did you read (and find to be naked)?

Love your post title!

Clare ODonohue said...

Sue - It was one of those situations where I'd read 100 pages, put it aside and pick it up weeks later thinking, "It's got to get better" and give it another go. Finally, I remembered the definition of insanity and tossed it in the "donate" pile.

And Robin - I read Pride & Prejudice. I found Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy et al extremely annoying. It was years ago, and maybe it reflects on me rather than on the book, and maybe I should have your good heart and give Austen another try... but there so many books in my "wish I had time to read" pile. I don't know if I can or want to bother.