Joan Didion on Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song
Literary Hub has published an excerpt from Joan Didion’s 1979 review of The Executioner’s Song.
I think no one but Mailer could have dared this book. The authentic Western voice, the voice heard in The Executioner’s Song, is one heard often in life but only rarely in literature, the reason being that to truly know the West is to lack all will to write it down. The very subject of The Executioner’s Song is that vast emptiness at the center of the Western experience, a nihilism antithetical not only to literature but to most other forms of human endeavor, a dread so close to zero that human voices fadeout, trail off, like skywriting. Beneath what Mailer calls ‘the immense blue of the strong sky of the American West,’ under that immense blue which dominates The Executioner’s Song, not too much makes a difference. The place at which both Gary Gilmore and his Mormon great-grandfather came to rest was a town where the desert lay at the end of every street, except to the east. ‘There,’ to the east, ‘was the Interstate, and after that, the mountains. That was about it.’