Ep. 82 Chase Darkness with Me by Billy Jensen — The Stacks Book Club (Jac Vanek)

Chase Darkness with Me is Billy Jensen’s true crime book about his journey into solving murder cases. We get to talk about this book, and all the complicated issues it brings up with Jac Vanek (LadyGang, The First Degree). We look at the merits of crowd sourced crime investigation, how we treat victims who aren’t pretty white women, and how the current obsession with true crime is a little problematic.
There are minor spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Jac: Instagram | LadyGang | The First Degree | Jac Vanek

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

September Reading Wrap-Up 2019

September was a surprising month for me, I read a lot of books that are outside of my normal reading habits (think family dramas and YA), but overall I enjoyed what I read. I also am back into a reading groove and took on ten books this month, up from seven the previous two months. The standout reads for me this month were The Sixth Man and The Only Plane in the Sky. I certainly fell short in reading down some of my unread shelf, but I think that will be the case for the remainder of the year. You can’t do it all.

September by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 31

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 6


All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

You’ve heard this story before: the not so beloved patriarch suffers a heart attack, and his family is then thrown into turmoil as they contemplate what his life and death meant. There are family secrets, resentment, and of course opportunities for redemption.

While the story itself feels little cliched, the writing is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but was moved by the way Attenberg crafted her sentences. Everything in this book is solid and made for an enjoyable reading experience, even if I couldn’t quite find an emotional attachment to the characters.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 127 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

(Photo: amazon.com)

Billy Jensen’a book is at once about his own personal journey into solving crime and about some of the stories of the crimes he’s helped to solve. There is also a large section of this book that covers Michelle McNamara and how it came to be that Jensen helped to finish her book I’ll be Gone in the Dark. Aside from The Golden State Killer, this book is a look into some lesser known stories of murder and that is a welcome treat.

I mostly wished this book was edited better and cut down. It was repetitive and lacked direction. I enjoyed hearing about crimes I didn’t know, and found Jensen to be a likable guide through this world of true crime. I especially appreciated how he took time to focus on the victims and their families. There are a lot of questions about the morality of crowd sourcing crime solving that I wished was debated more in depth, weather that be DNA services or social media posts about potential criminals. This book had a strong base but lacked the depth that was required to really give it lasting impact.

Two Stars | Source Books | August 13, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Chase Darkness with Me on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

(Photo: amazon.com)

A chronicle of the school closings on Chicago’s South Side that disproportionately effect Black and Brown communities. Eve Ewing was educated in these schools and uses her unique perspective and her skills as a journalist to provide a personal and well argued case against these racist school closings.

Ewing is able to convey a lot of history without making the book feel to dry (or long), and gives context to school closings dating back to The Great Migration. She illustrates how these closings are a direct attack on Black History. What was missing for me was the context of how school systems (charter vs. public) really operate. The book is deeply rooted in Chicago, and there is a gap between that and what the book is saying about school closings as a whole.

Three Stars | University of Chicago Press | October 5, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month’s selection for #ShakeTheStacks left a lot to be desired. I struggled with this play as there is very little action and I didn’t care about the characters. The eroding friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal only works if you buy into them in Henry IV Part 1 which, I didn’t. Therefore this second part of the trilogy was mostly me trudging through in the hopes that Henry V will be better.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 200 | 127 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

(Photo: amazon.com)

A YA novel in verse about a young man contemplating avenging his brother’s murder. This book could have been preachy or seemed condescending but Reynolds finds a way to create an emotional story for younger readers that is grounded and truthful, which works for readers of all ages.

In addition to Reynolds finding ways to speak to his audience without talking down to them, Long Way Down confronts issues with an easiness that doesn’t feel like Reynolds is trying hard to be cool or relevant. This book is ultimately about masculinity and the ways in which Black boys and men are expected to behave when it comes to violence, grief, and family. Reynolds expertly weaves the content of this book with the form and structure he has chosen to tell this story.

Four Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

(Photo: amazon.com)

An examination of motherhood through memoir. Sophia Shalmiyev looks at her own life growing up in Russia with her father, and uses the absence of her mother as a driving force throughout her life and her narrative.

This book is fragmeted and poetic, and Shalmiyev uses women from art and culture to paint a larger narrtive. We follow along with Shalmiyev’s life and the greater commentary of what it means to be a motherless daughter, and a eventually a to become a mother herself.

I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but I could feel that its was cathartic and crafted beautifully even if my own connection to it felt distant.

Three Stars | Simon & Schuster Audio | February 12, 2019 | 5 Hours 38 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Four young siblings visit a fortune teller who shares with each of them the date of their deaths, from then on we watch the Gold siblings live. We follow them across the country through time and see how their looming fates effect their relationships and choices.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Chloe Benjamin clearly did to tell this story, from 1980’s San Francisco to the inner workings of the magic scene to aging research on monkeys. This book has range. I also enjoyed waiting to see if and how all the pieces played out, and while that novelty wore off about 3/4 through the book, I stayed more connected and entertained than I thought I would going in. The writing was strong and overall the book is good, if not slightly overworked. You’re left to think about the decisions we make and how much we are in control, and thats something worth contemplating.

Three Stars | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | February 5, 2019 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Immortalists on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Chloe Benjamin on The Short Stacks HERE.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.

Five Stars | Avid Reader Press | September 10, 2019 | 512 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Garrett M. Graff on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

(Photo: amazon.com)

I wasn’t expecting much from this athlete memoir, and thats coming from a huge Warriors fan, but this book was way more than I expected, in all the best ways. In all honesty, if you’re not a big sports fan, this book might not be for you, but if you like basketball at all (and maybe even just sports in general) I would suggest you pick up this book. I would be remiss not to mention that the reader of this audiobook is extraordinary. Perhaps one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Andre Iguodala has been part of basketball for long enough to have learned a lot. He finds ways to weave his own perspective on basketball with his experiences. He talks about paying college athletes in relationship to his time at the University of Arizona. He touches on racist owner mentalities, double consciousness, and the biases of referees and coaches. The book couples the social justice issues with his insights into playing basketball, being successful, and his myriad of teammates (many of whom are household names).While I would have loved to know more about his personal life (his wife and son), I wasn’t bothered that those parts of himself were kept private.

Five Stars | Penguin Audio | June 25, 2019 | 7 Hours 8 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The idea of this book is stellar, follow three women around and find out about their sexual lives and desires. Focus on the women, recreate their world on the page, explain what makes them tick, and use them to explain something greater about women and sex. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that promise, instead it focused on women who were in relationships with men that were manipulative in the best case and resulted in sexual assault and rape in the worst.

Something that was missing from Three Women was Taddeo taking a stand and saying something about the women and the work she had done. There was no reflection in this book and no greater points were made. Instead we were presented with information without any attempt to make sense of it. A sex positive book about women’s desires and what that says about 2019 would’ve been a fantastic read, but this book was not that at all. It also should be stated that all three of the women used in this book were White, able bodied, and cisgender. There was no diversity which doesn’t help Taddeo’s attempt to extrapolate some larger point about “women”.

Two Stars | Avid Reader Press | July 9, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — October 2019

October is known as the spookiest month around, so here at The Stacks we’re interpreting that in our own way. No, we’re not going full out horror, but we are looking at mortality and murder all month long.

We’re kicking off October with The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. This book asks the question, “if you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?”. We follow the four Gold children who seek out a traveling psychic that can tell them when they will die and then we watch to see how each of them choses to live. We’ll be discussing this book on October 9th.

Then on October 23rd we’re diving into a little true crime with Chase Darkness with Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen. This is not your traditional true crime book, instead Jensen shares his own journey as a journalist covering murders and why he took the reigns to solve murders himself. Its a true crime narrative unlike any we’ve seen before. If Jensen’s name sounds familiar to you, its because he is the man who helped to finish Michelle Macnamara’s book I’ll be Gone in the Dark, after she suddenly passed away.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out through Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our August books on Amazon or IndieBound:


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim tells a story that is complex and layered, the way life tends to be. The story; a fire in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) chamber, which is owned by a Korean immigrant family in a mostly White area, kills two people. We enter the book on day one of the trial, and we’re tasked with sorting through the stories and emotions to figure out who set the fire, and why.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The best scenes in this book are the ones in the courtroom. They move with dexterity and never feel slow and clunky, in fact, I wanted more trial scenes, and I wanted them to last longer. When Kim was interviewed on The Short Stacks, she mentioned how when writing these scenes she felt an ease of writing that she didn’t always feel in other sections. I think that can be felt in the reading of the exchanges in the courtroom.

When it comes to power dynamics Kim does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in a suspended state, constantly trying to figure out who is on top. This is played out through race, gender, language, education levels, age, and so much more. It is really impressive and subtle. Kim manipulates (in a good way) scenes from different perspectives to give situations that seemed black and white, depth, and areas of grey.

Another element of this story that is powerful is the guilt and anxiety that many of the parents feel. So much of this book centers around children with disabilities (mostly Autism) and the parent’s own fears and hopes become paramount to the story. When we are asked to hear out these mothers as human, and not just chauffeurs to and from HBOT therapy, we see a full and nuanced picture of the challenges of parenthood, especially when that parenting comes with the fear of your child being left behind. There is a lot of vulnerability that we rarely see or discuss when it comes to parenting for fear of judgement. One scene in particular is a standout when it comes to the things parents think, but never say.

There is another side of this conversation where I think Miracle Creek misses the mark. In addition to the parental anxiety, there is the sense that the only way to release that anxiety is to “fix” the child. While thats a common way people think about disability, it isn’t based in reality. Most people who are disabled and/or who have developmental challenges are fully who they are. There is no fixing, no matter how badly a parent may want their child to be seen as “normal”. The idea that a child is exactly who they are and that that is ok, is barely present in this story. The only time this perspective is shared is by the mostly two dimensional protestors, that are portrayed as the villains of this story (not a spoiler). In a story with so many points of view (the chapters are broken up by changing narrators), it would have been easy to include a voice that contradicts or challenges the parents whose children are in HBOT and other therapies.

This book takes on a lot of complex issues, and while I really enjoyed reading Miracle Creek, there were places where I wished Kim had dug deeper or found more nuanced ways to discuss topics that are very layered and not so easy to discuss.

We read Miracle Creek for The Stacks Book Club and you can hear that conversation by clicking the link below.

Ep.68 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The Stacks Book Club (Rachel Overvoll)

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Hardcover: 368
  • PublisherSarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Miracle Creek Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 68 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The Stacks Book Club (Rachel Overvoll)

Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama meets literary fiction book by Angie Kim, it is also today’s selection for The Stacks Book Club. To help us break down this story of parental anxiety, belonging, and the right to life, we have author and activist Rachel Overvoll (Finding Feminism). Today we discuss intention vs. impact, the language we use around ability levels, and how we respond to characters who do bad things.
There are spoilers on this week’s episode. For a spoiler free look at this book check out The Short Stacks with Angie Kim.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Rachel: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — July 2019 Books

The time has come to announce our July books for The Stacks Book Club. This month there are three books, lucky you, and they are all very different from one another.

First up, on July 3rd, we’re reading a backlist short story collection called Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. The stories in this book, which came out in 1992, follow addicts, hustlers, and lost souls as they navigate life and death, rock bottom and redemption.

Then on July 17th, as voted by our Stacks Pack, we’ll be reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This novel is a contemporary version of the tried and true courtroom drama. It has added elements of the obligations of parenthood and the stigma of being an outsider. It is both a page turner and an in depth look at humanity.

Lastly, on July 31st we’re talking about turning dreams into careers with WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson. In this book, Johnson, the founder of Create and Cultivate, offers a rallying cry for a new generation of women who are looking to redefine working on their own terms.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 13: Robert W. Fieseler//Tinderbox

We’re joined today by Robert W. Fieseler author of June The Stacks Book Club Pick, Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation. In our conversation we get to know Fieseler, how this tragic event came into his life, where he found his sources, and the toll writing about trauma can have on an author. Our conversation is spoiler free, and serves as a great introduction for our TSBC conversation on Tinderbox, that will air on June 5th.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Robert: Instagram | Twitter | Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

A friend who recommends you books that you love is a rare and valuable friend. I am lucky to have such friends, who tell me what to read, and rarely lead me astray. I came to To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann through one of these friends, my book recommending savant Heather John Fogarty. Heather told me about the book months before it came out, even before I had created The Stacks. She knew it was my kind of book. So once I decided to start the podcast, it seemed obvious Heather would be a guest and we would discuss it for The Stacks Book Club. That episode is out now, and you can listen to it here.

Here is more about To The Bridge

On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


Nancy Rommelmann has crafted a layered and nuanced book with To The Bridge. She never falls into the trap of trying to make the book easy or clear. She presents her investigation and trusts that we, the readers, are smart enough to draw our own conclusions. For me, the conclusions were less obvious than I would have hoped, they were complex and often times contradictory, they came out of the work Rommelmann had done.

Where this book soars is in Rommelmann’s ability to sift through all the information she’d gathered. She is our guide into the world of this toxic relationship, between Amanda Stott-Smith and her estranged husband Jason Smith, and while she is somewhat objective, she also becomes a subject of her own writing. She is a character in this book.  At first Rommelmann’s pressence in the book threw me off, I was not excited about author and subject in a non-memoir type of true crime book. However in the end it didn’t bother me at all. I maybe even liked it a little, it helped me to understand this rocky landscape more clearly.

This is one of those books that you think you know how it is going to go, and if I’m being honest nothing really surprised me. Sure, there were details I didn’t guess, but mostly the story of sociopaths follows a pattern and this book just highlights those patterns. We all know that something is wrong if a mother is killing her children. However in To The Bridge we are not forced to read a sensational account of the events that led Stott-Smith to the bridge. Instead Rommelmann affords her subjects dignity and autonomy, and ultimately asks us to hold them accountable.

There are certainly things I wished would have been presented more expressly in the book. I would have appreciated if Rommelmann gave me the answers. I would have loved to know exactly what Amanda was thinking when she dropped her kids off the Sellwood bridge that night. But, To The Bridge can not definitively answer that question for me. I don’t even know is Amanda herself could answer for certain. What I respect about this book is that Rommelmann investigates to try to find out why, and then she shows us her work. She doesn’t shy away from the messy realities of the toxicity of Amanda and Jason’s marriage and she doesn’t let those around them off the hook for their complacency. I would love final answers, but that is not how life works. Things can get complicated, and this book leans into that complexity, it doesn’t attempt to smooth ir out.

If you like investigative journalism, if you like uncovering the story beneath the story, then this is a book for you. It moves fast, and is an easy read even though the subject matter is anything but. If you are a sensitive reader or are triggered by domestic abuse and child abuse then I would suggest you prepare yourself for this book, or set it aside for another time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Heather John Fogarty discussing To The Bridge.

  • Hardcover: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Little A (July 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on To The Bridge Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 32 To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann — The Stacks Book Club (Heather John Fogarty)

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWhen a mother, Amanda Stott-Smith, throws her two young children off of a bridge, one journalist tries to understand why. That is the premise of Nancy Rommelmann’s true crime book, To The Bridge. This week, for The Stacks Book Club, we discuss this haunting book with journalist Heather John Fogarty. While the story of Stott-Smith and her children is true, if you’re not familiar with the events there will be some spoilers on this week’s episode.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Heather: Heather’s Website|Heather’s Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

5DF10CBB-A65E-4C65-B6E5-F119B079DA59.JPGI have been fascinated with murders and murderers for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been a big reader, and when you put those two things together, true crime and reading, you invariably get to The Executioner’s Song. It is an eleven hundred page true crime classic. And so after ten years, I finally decided to check this off the big book bucket list.

Here is more about The Executioner’s Song:

Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer,The Executioner’s Song follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous.

Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.The Executioner’s Song is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.


Normally when I read a book, I feel pretty confident in my review. I sit down to write it, and out comes my thoughts. I may stop and start a little, but with The Executioner’s Song I am about 4-5 attempts in and still feeling unsure of where I stand. Part of my struggle is coming from the fact that there is just so much book, so many ideas to unpack and feelings to sort through. Another part is because I do not want to spoil anything, even though you could easily spoil so much by looking up Gary Gilmore on wikipedia. So here goes my attempt to explain my thoughts without out giving away too much…

This is the kind of book that haunts you, not because of what happens in it, but because of how it all unravels. I didn’t love the book. It never fully hooked me, but I have found myself thinking about the people involved in Gilmore’s life and death a lot since I finished it. There were moments of suspense that I thoroughly enjoyed, and then sections that felt endless. There were people I loved in one section of the book, and then was hoping they’d be leaving the story a hundred pages later. While I never fully understood why so many people rave about this book, I suspect it has to do with the way Mailer is able to give his characters room to transform in front of the readers eyes. These people feel full and complete, no one is without dimension. Mailer’s writing style is impressive and specific and lacks any frills. It is direct, like the people you find in the book.

A tale of White toxic masculinity told by a toxic White man, The Executioner’s Song can be rage inducing. I felt myself feeling sorry for a murderer and domestic abuser in one moment and then feeling furious at the author for presenting the story in that way. Giving Gilmore so much room to garner sympathies when he really behaves disgustingly through out. Despite his deep flaws, Mailer does find humanity in Gilmore. He also finds the humanity in the kind of world where a Gary Gilmore could be created. I don’t disagree with Mailer that part of Gilmore was cultivated during his time in prison, however the compassion that Mailer asks us to show to Gilmore was often times more than I could bear.

There are no answers in this book. I am okay with that. Conversations around incarceration and murder and class and relationships are seldom clear cut. Mailer throws all his research your way, and more or less asks you to sift through it. He may guide you, or allow his characters to sway you, but in the end you’ll take from this book whatever you need.

One of the big topics of debate revolves around capital punishment, not only if its a good idea or not, but how someone is sentenced for death and how that process progresses. Forty-plus years later, this part of the book feels more current than it should. We get a view of the death penalty debate from many sides. We see how death row works, how the appeals process functions, we even get a good look at the media frenzy behind high profile criminal cases. In the end, I found myself asking over and over, what is the point? Is the world really any better off with Gilmore dead?

In the end I am glad I read this book. I didn’t love it, but I appreciated it, not only as a piece of writing but as a glimpse into a moment in time. After spending the better part of a month reading through this book, it was not the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but I did have major moments of shock and awe. It is an incredible feat of journalism and story telling, and it is an exceptional commentary on the death penalty and the humanity of criminals. I can recognize the greatness in The Executioner’s Song theoretically, but I could never fully feel the power that many others have experienced in reading the book.

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (May 8, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Executioner’s Song Amazon

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