Skip to main content

The Assisted Suicide

March 2024
1min read

Shot in the Heart


by Mikal Gilmore, Doubleday, 403 pages, $24.95 . CODE: DOU-1

Capital punishment had enjoyed a ten-year hiatus in America when a lean convicted killer named Gary Gilmore hounded the state of Utah into carrying out his death sentence in 1977, and his execution became a national event. Now Gilmore’s youngest brother, the Rolling Stone writer Mikal Gilmore, has found a fresh and powerful approach to the whole strange story to which Norman Mailer previously devoted more than a thousand pages in his “true-life novel” The Executioner’s Song . Mailer’s account was told in the clipped, stoic speech of Gary’s Western family; this version is driven more by the Gilmores’ wildness.

It was only because he was the youngest that Mikal escaped many of the terrors inflicted on his older brothers by their father, a failed acrobat, lion tamer, and stunt man who regularly beat his sons. After several earlier marriages, Frank Gilmore had met Bessie Brown, a young Mormon woman of twenty-four, when he was forty-seven. Frank punished their sons, said the eldest, Frank Jr., “not to make us better, but to make us sorry.” Gary Gilmore later credited his hatred of all authority to his weekly sessions under his father’s razor strop. Mikal, however, was hit only once by his father, who was an old man by then. “Gary was the criminal,” his mother later told the boy she favored. “I’d like you to be the lawyer. Your brothers will need a good and caring legal mind.”

Instead Mikal grew up to write rockmusic criticism and this extraordinary book—an attempt to understand two violent and elusive men. Bessie Gilmore’s powerful question haunts the story: “I raised both Frank Jr. and Gary side by side. One son picked up the gun. The other did not pick up the gun. Why?”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate