Jack and Norman
St. Martin Press 2017
In 1977, after a “ten-year drought on the use of the death penalty,” rifles aim and fire toward a circle pined on Gary Gilmore’s dark shirt.
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“. . . a sobering, action-packed realistic drama that continues to unfold in the United States.”
His execution and life is subsequently documented by Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer with the assistance of another convict, Jack Henry Abbott. Jerome Loving, in his new book,“Jack and Norman” chronicles the self-serving relationship between these two men, both gifted writers and both having stabbed someone.
Loving notes the unfairness of justice. Mailer, he writes, never spent a day in jail because he had resources, while Abbott was a “no-body,” a “state-raised convict,” jailed most of his life beginning with reform school as a teenager. Abbott knew the prison system, as Loving writes, since “he rode the carousel of federal prisons” for decades, and it was his incarceration experience, detailed in letters to Mailer, that he used in his Gilmore book, “The Executioner’s Song.” Abbott used the same letters later to write his own book, “In the Belly of the Beast,” which netted positive reviews from the New York Times.
With Mailer’s assistance, Abbott, serving a sentence for murder, was released on parole. Shortly after he stabs a person to death in New York. Abbott, in his defense, partially supported by Loving, claimed the prison system failed him, churning out inmates unable to live outside prison walls.
Loving renders surprising historic insight into the beginnings of penitentiaries in the United States. Until 1829 there were no prisons in the United States. That changed when the Quakers in Pennsylvania opened the Eastern State Penitentiary. According to Loving, “Quaker leaders were idealists” who believed solitude and isolation would reform sinners, and even used techniques of torture, including a form of waterboarding.
Though Loving duplicates information throughout the book, he nevertheless delivers a sobering, action-packed realistic drama that continues to unfold in the United States where prisons now hold more than 2.3 million.
For more information, see: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250106995
Review by Kate Padilla