Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shot In The Heart by Mikal Gilmore

There is a small library of books at my work for employees' reading pleasure. Pleasure might not actually be the best word, as most of the books are true crime novels, where death, murder, and mayhem are the topics of the day. When I need a book to read, I'll randomly pick one...usually based on the cover or its name...much like the way I pick a bottle of wine.

Shot In the Heart is my latest pick and it didn't disappoint. Mikal Gilmore is the brother of Gary Gilmore, a man who was put to death in Utah in 1977 for murdering two men. Although Gary's story is enough to fill an entire book (Mikal recommends The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer if you are interested), Shot In the Heart is the story of Mikal's entire family. Now I'm a sucker for multi generational stories...and this is no exception. Mikal details his family history, beginning with the origins of Mormanism. Not only does his mother's family come from Mormon stock, but Gilmore is fascinated with the Mormon idea of blood atonement. This is the belief that the sin of murder is so heinous, only the shedding of the sinner's blood will atone for it. Gilmore writes about how Utah's capital punishment laws kept this doctrine alive by allowing an inmate on death row the option of death by firing squad.

Although Gilmore's maternal lineage is defined by its Mormon roots, his paternal lineage has equally compelling stories. His grandmother was a psychic, and his father a con man with a spotty, incomplete past. After I got through the Mormon part of the book, I found myself reading stories of Harry Houdini, evil spirits, and haunted houses. I actually got the heebie jeebies reading some of his stories.

Gilmore then talks extensively about his parents and siblings' lives. Although Mikal was lucky to enjoy his father's love and relative family stability, he still describes the disfunction that dominated his brothers' lives and that carried into his own. With physical abuse, sibling rivalry, and unpredictable parents, I wasn't surprised by his brother Gary's life decisions. And although Gary became the "famous one" in the family, Mikal and his other brothers weren't immune to poor decisions wrought from their lives' trauma.

Although captivating, Shot in the Heart is sad in many ways. If you want an uplifting book, this isn't the one for you. But as a study in human depravity, it's worth the read.

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