Gary Gilmore was an abused child who grew up to be a killer. Gilmore was consumed by a torrent of rage which he transferred to the people he knew and to strangers during his crime spree. Ultimately, he was caught, tried and convicted of murdering a motel clerk, and shot by a Utah firing squad. It was Gilmore who, when asked if he had any last words, said, “Let’s do it.” The story of his life and death is unbearably tragic, and the deaths of his victims unbearably sad. Gilmore had a younger brother named Mikal, who wrote a book called “A Shot in the Heart”, the title of which refers not only to the manner in which Gilmore went to his death, but undoubtedly to the sense of shame and loss that Mikal suffered on account of his brother’s deeds and their shared family history, which was also Mikal’s burden and shot in the heart. In “Remarkable Reads” the celebrated writer Jill McCorkle chooses “A Shot in the Heart” as one of the books she can’t forget, which “invoked a note from the sounding board of her soul.”

McCorkle opens her remarks with the notion from Keats that truth is beauty and beauty is truth, a rather surprising beginning in connection with a book about murder, abuse, and family shame. I suspect that this is McCorkle’s way of telling us that even those truths that are devastating or unpleasant can have their own beauty and truth. The way McCorkle tells it, for her “A Shot in the Heart” is beautiful in terms of its construction, for the lyrical language and masterful weaving of past and present that achieves a kind of thematic beauty as the author takes his tragic family legacy and finds within it a truth that, in turn, leads to a kind of acceptance—and, therefore, a kind of grace and strength. There are, I suspect, many things that McCorkle does not share about her emotional response to Mikal Gilmore’s book, situations, events, and memories, that for her are too personal to commit to paper in a book like “Remarkable Reads”. But surely the idea that sometimes there are things in life too terrible to contemplate, but that we can only accept with as much grace and strength as we can muster, is an idea that is universally true on the most intimate level. Whenever I speak to anyone about their lives, or the lives of those they love, or of their friends, the subject of loss, death, illness, shame or failure always comes up; that is, if we’re speaking truthfully and openly. In the reading life, these subjects not unfamiliar territory.

McCorkle continues, “But it (Gilmore’s book) is also beautiful to me because through history, Mikal Gilmore answered questions that troubled, haunted, and intrigued me all my life.” McCorkle does not tell us in “Remarkable Reads” what those questions were that troubled, haunted, and intrigued her all he life. As strangers to her, it is none of our business; but, nevertheless, we are convinced that she is telling us the truth.

In conclusion McCorkle tells us about Mikal Gilmore’s final, personal goodbye to his brother just prior to the execution: “This kind of moment pulls so many emotions to the surface at once—sadness, fear, compassion, relief. It expresses something so complex we marvel at its existence, just as we do occurrences in nature. Because out of that chaos of complicated feelings and situations emerges a quiet, simple truth that has the power to alter the way we see the world by adding new dimensions of intellectual and emotional understanding. I think the orchestration of such a phenomenon is beautiful. And personally, that is all I need to know.”

When I was a kid, I loved astronomy. I lived in the country, far away from any large city, or, indeed, any city at all. When my parents gave me a reflecting telescope for Christmas one year, I began to scan the skies, looking for objects to observe. One night I was lucky enough to find the great Andromeda Galaxy. I sat for hours, night after night, looking through the eyepiece at this mysterious natural object that was far away, infinitely inscrutable and beautiful beyond belief. My dog must have wondered what I was doing, sitting quietly on cool winter nights, looking and looking through a long white tube. I can say that the galaxy created in me a chaos of complicated feelings out of which, even as a child, emerged a simple truth that I would share with you if I knew you better. The galaxy altered the way I saw the world then, and continues to influence the way I see the world now. Some books have the same power. And personally, that is all I need to know.