My life is being eaten alive by Norman Mailer's true crime story The Executioner's Song. Story, huh. Beast. Soul sucker. Real bugger. So many better words to describe the 1,109 pages I am slogging through at a rate that feels like no-progress-per-minute.
If you like true crime, Mailer's book is the thing -- according to people. It's what you read if you loved In Cold Blood. It's the story of cool Gary Gilmore, a hard luck dude in and out of reform schools and jails until he has spent more of his life incarcerated than not. When he finally gets the chance to touch soil, he makes a mad leap at life not quite understanding the rules and social cues. He steals, he needles, he drinks. He brags about shit he did while in the can.
Then he falls in love with young Nicole, a real beauty. She's in her early 20s with two kids and three ex-husbands and no real rules on when or how or who she will sleep with. It's a rapid-fire relationship that steams and boils. Gary is jealous; Nicole doesn't do commitment well. When she breaks free of him, Gary goes on a two-day rampage. First he robs a gas station and kills the guy working. It doesn't stay an unsolved mystery long: he's busted and hauled away soon after robbing and killing the man managing a hotel near his uncle Vern's place.
He's sentenced to death, but when all is said and done, no one really wants to have him killed. Not his lawyers, not the state, not the ACLU. Motions are filed, stays are granted. But there is Gary, in his cell, telling everyone he just wants to die. That's the punishment he was given. Now why won't they just dish it out? Then there is some wrangling for new lawyers and the rights to his story and Gary and Nicole engage in a suicide pact -- but both fail to down enough pills and just Nicole bothers to barely slip into a coma.
And so it goes, on and on and on.
I decided I need to finish this book, regardless of if my eyes roll back into my head as I read, regardless of if my left arm goes numb from holding my Kindle. I'm not good at a) setting goals, b) setting a deadline for the goal, c) completing the goal. I'm good in bursts. Like, I might be able to finish this book tonight, say. But I'm not good at working slowly toward a finished project, bite, chew, bite, chew.
After months of reading this, a few days ago I did math: I need to read 40 pages a night to finish by July 31st, and if I can finish by July 31st, then I will be a person who sets goals with deadlines and completes them. Then I can start working toward a new goal, a new date, a new completion and all around better person.
But this is killing me. I actually itch inside my body. My hair hurts. My eyes are buggy.
At this point in the story Gary Gilmore is sitting in a Utah prison waiting to die, has been for a long time, and I know exactly how he feels. I, too, just want this to be over with.
I get the hoo-haw about this book. I wouldn't have read almost 900 pages if I didn't. But I'm so sick of it right now that if someone barged in the front door, snatched my Kindle and danced on the screen with stiletto heals I'd thank them and say: "Please make sure all the words are gone before you give if back."
Sometimes 40 pages goes fast. Sometimes I could impale myself with a pillow more quickly. And then there is just the tedium. Forty pages. Every day. Forever, it seems like.
(I don't remember having this much trouble with Infinite Jest, but I must have. The memory has just been buried beneath the cloak of Oh-I've-Read-Infinite-Jest self-righteousness).
I got a stack of books from the library today: a nonfiction book about working as a receptionist at the New Yorker, two pieces of fiction, a collection of short stories. Next to my bed is a copy of Dancing on my Grave, a memoir by former superstar ballerina Gelsey Kirkland.
None of this sounds appealing to me. Words. Barf.
The Executioner's Song feels like stuffing oneself on Easter candy. "You like jelly beans, huh? I'll give you some fucking jelly beans." Then, three months later, stumbling from a dark room with a purple-stained tongue and pockets of body bloat vowing to never eat jelly beans again. Not black ones, not the popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys. It's over.
I might never read (anything longer than 250 pages) ever again.