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Shot in the Heart

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Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
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Aug 20, 2019 | ISBN 9780593170373 | 1170 Minutes

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    Aug 01, 1995 | ISBN 9780385478007

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  • Sep 23, 2009 | ISBN 9780307423641

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  • Aug 20, 2019 | ISBN 9780593170373

    1170 Minutes

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  • Jul 05, 2000 | ISBN 9780553755817

    216 Minutes

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“One of the most beautifully written, moving nonfiction books published in the past five years.” — Deidre Donahue, USA Today.

“Remarkable, astonishing… Shot in the Heart reads like a combination of Brothers Karamazov and a series of Johnny Cash ballads… chilling, heartbreaking, and alarming.” — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times.

“Mesmerizing… riveting and immensely moving… Shot in the Heart is a gesture of sustained courage that just happens to be a page-turner.” — Daphne Merkin,The New Yorker.


National Book Critics Circle Awards WINNER 1994

Author Q&A

Q: You’ve been a writer for twenty years. Why did you wait so long to write about your family?

A: I simply was never able to face this story, much less write about it or examine it. Shortly after Gary’s execution I wrote an article for Rolling Stone which served as a sort of temporary psychological exorcism. As a family, we had been through so much hell–the experience of having the most private thing in your life thrown to the top of the world and on the front page of newspapers day after day after day, and in the worst sense imaginable. My brother Gary was a man who had murdered two completely innocent men, terrible crimes that I would imagine irreparably damaged two families; he was demanding his death, and was on a public march to that death. It had become a sensational media frenzy. Just knowing somebody you care about was going to die, then arguing with his decision, losing him–it was all so devastating. For several years before Gary’s execution I had tried to put myself at a distance from my family. I felt they were a bad-luck outfit and that my only hope of escape was to reject them. That worked for a while. But families have a way of catching up with us, and what happened to Gary and to all of us in 1977 caught up with me in a big way. Later I tried again to escape my family. I told myself I didn’t have to be shaped by it, I didn’t have to be known as Gary Gilmore’s brother. I threw myself into my work as a journalist. I tried to live my life as if I wasn’t a member of the same family. I tried to pretend I wasn’t a part of their history. I lost touch with Frank, my only living brother, for ten years after my mother died. I didn’t want to go down in the same mire I’d seen them all go down in. I was emotionally devastated by a bad marriage, a couple of really disastrous love affairs, projects started and never finished. At first I never associated these problems with my family. But eventually I came to realize that some of the same dark forces in Gary’s life were in mine; we both had been shaped by a longing for family, a longing that broke each of us but in different ways. I began to see the patterns and realized that if I didn’t figure out where I learned these patterns, I would never be able to go on with my life in a positive way.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Shot in the Heart?

A: I want to reinforce that the violence visited upon your children and the people you love is the violence that in some sense never ends, and that we all pay for it. This is why the world we live in is not a safe world: it is because the violence in our homes has not only gone on too long, it has been too protected, and it is still largely unexamined.

On a more personal level, I know that many people will see this as a book about Gary Gilmore. I cannot control that, but I do not think that is what it is. I think it is a book about the family that Gary Gilmore came from–a family not as dissimilar to many families as many of us would like to believe. When we look at violence in our society, and read the cover stories on all the weekly news magazines, that is virtually all the violence that is talked about: the violence of the dangerous streets, the violence of the stranger who will walk into your life and rob you or shoot you or devastate you. Of course this is a real concern and something to be frightened of. But where are all these dangerous strangers coming from, why are they filling up our streets and making our private lives so fearful? They are coming from somewhere and that somewhere is our homes, where this violence was learned…

I want people to understand that murder very rarely occurs as a single solitary response born of a moment. The seeds were sown long before, in the murderer’s family and environment, and in some ways we are all a part of it.

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