Norman Mailer: A Double Life
Norman Mailer: A Double Life
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The “glorious…sweeping, full-scale biography” of Norman Mailer, the famous novelist, journalist, and public figure: “There’s not a paragraph in this enormous book that doesn’t contain a nugget of something you…wish you had known” (The New York Times).
Norman Mailer was one of the giants of American letters, and one of the most celebrated public figures of his time. He was a novelist, journalist, biographer, and filmmaker; a provocateur and passionate observer of his times; and a husband, father, and serial philanderer.
Perhaps nothing characterized Mailer more than his ambition. He wanted not merely to be the greatest writer of his generation, but a writer great enough to be compared to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. As Michael Lennon describes, although he considered himself first and foremost a novelist, his greatest literary contribution may have been in journalism, where he used his novelistic gifts to explore the American psyche. He would return to certain subjects obsessively: John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, sex, technology, and the intricate relationship of fame and identity. Lennon captures Mailer in all his sharp complexities and shows us how he self-consciously invented and re-invented himself throughout his lifetime.
Michael Lennon knew Mailer for thirty-five years, and in this definitive biography, he had the cooperation of Mailer’s late widow, Norris Church, his ex-wives, and all of his children, as well as his sister, Barbara. He also had access to Mailer’s vast, unpublished correspondence and papers, and he interviewed dozens of people who knew Mailer. In Norman Mailer: A Double Life he “brings Mailer thoroughly alive in this great wallop of a book…and he captures the entirety of a man who embodied his era like no other” (The Washington Post).
disappointment was women: he had no dates until he returned home for the Christmas holiday and saw Phyllis Bradman, taking her to a New York Rangers hockey game. But on New Year’s Eve he had no date, and went skating in the afternoon and to a burlesque show. Back at Harvard for semester exams in late January, he realized that physics was too much for him and he dropped it early in the second semester. He was maintaining As and Bs in his other courses, including English A, where the instructor had
telepathy. There are no black astronauts, the professor observes. No Jews either, Mailer replies. The victory of WASP culture relied on numbers and computers. If there was ever to be a great black civilization, he predicts, “magic would be at its heart. For they lived with the wonders of magic as the Whites lived with technology.” The professor had good reason to drink, he observes. Technology was winning on all fronts, and NASA had scant interest in race relations or, for that matter, Mailer’s
Oswald’s murder, Marina was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. She didn’t want to die, although her suffering was palpable. She sits in a chair, a tiny woman in her early fifties, her thin shoulders hunched forward in such pain of spirit under such a mass of guilt that one would comfort her as one would hug a child. What is left of what was once her beauty are her extraordinary eyes, blue as diamonds, and they blaze with light as if, in divine compensation for the dead weight of all that
2003. Why Are We at War? NY: Random House, 2003. Modest Gifts: Poems and Drawings. NY: Random House, 2003. The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. Coauthor, John Buffalo Mailer. NY: Nation Books, 2006. The Castle in the Forest. NY: Random House, 2007. On God: An Uncommon Conversation. With Michael Lennon. NY: Random House, 2007. 1. Mailer’s paternal grandfather, Benjamin Mailer, probably taken not long after his 1900
Rowbotham: Transcript of NM’s testimony, “On Weed and Karma,” Stone Age 1, Winter 1978, 28–29. “They both had an aura”: Joan Juliet Buck, “Ragtime,” Vogue, 492. “Besides, I thought”: William Borders, “Mailer, Dying for a Part in ‘Ragtime,’ ” NYT, 12-17-80, C25. “I thought it must”: Roderick Mann, “Mailer Writes Off Acting . . . Too Hard,” Los Angeles Times, 12-?-81. “The ceiling”: JML interview with Jeffrey Michelson, 7-24-11. “stepping in shit”: JML interview with Walter Anderson, 4-20-11.