THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG

The life story of double-murderer Gary Gilmore and a new, impressive book for Mailer, a thousand-page leviathan achieved at an awesome price.

Goodbye, self-advertising, two-fisted clown-drunk Mailer. Hello, relentlessly objective Invisible Norman. Indeed, the tone, the voice, the man himself seem at first entirely gone, until we notice how vividly the figure of Gilmore dominates every page as he manipulates the world from his jail cell; it's as if Mailer, always his own existential hero, has found one with even stronger credentials. Before his death at 36, Gilmore had spent all but four years of his adolescent/adult life in jail. Here, we follow him from his release on parole from the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, in April 1976 to his execution at Utah State Prison in January 1977, a nine-month period in which Gilmore spent only four months flee. He was paroled when his cousin Brenda guaranteed him a home and a job. Self-educated, Gilmore had a nice vocabulary, a definite drawing talent, and a knack for writing; he exercised regularly and was generally fearless. But he'd been an emotional child, we learn from flashbacks, boorishly insensitive to the effect of his instant explosions on others. And now, in his newfound parole freedom, his volatility became a weapon that terrorized others and let him get his own way. He also brought his prison values with him; to cheat, to steal, or to rape were as inconsequential and natural as breathing. But within a few weeks he'd moved in with Nicole Baker, a much-married 19-year-old mother of two, a sexy, sensitive girl-woman (Gary's "elf") who fell for him in the hardest possible way. He beat her; she moved out and hid in a nearby town. And after her desertion, he was wired for disaster; he murdered a gas-station attendant and a motel clerk, was recognized and arrested. A rapid trial and sentencing found him on Death Row. He chose death by firing squad and refused to allow an appeal; he deserved to die, he felt, and he detested the prospect of a life sentence—he'd already spent over 18 years in prison. So began the massive efforts of others to save him against his will. Utah's entire judicial system was called into question. And, more important, no one had been executed in the U.S. for ten years. Would his be the breakthrough case re-establishing capital punishment and condemning Death Row prisoners everywhere? Gilmore, meanwhile, had sold the rights to his life story to Larry Schiller, a journalist-filmmaker (who put together Mailer's Marilyn bio-package), and, in Mailer's dramatization, he becomes the third principal—a hustler who undergoes a profound moral education in the course of the Gilmore countdown.

These three are magnificently drawn and placed against the array of persons who've been stabbed in one way or another by Gilmore's tragic double nature—and, working chiefly with Schiller's tapes, Mailer has pulled off a crafty portrait, a shrewd reconstruction, a compelling projection of his own nature through that of a truly doomed man.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1979

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 1056

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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