Norman Mailer died November 10, 2007. He's such a controversial American writer that it's difficult to come to any basic conclusions regarding his body of work as far as I am concerned. He was a combative, egotistical, highly opinionated, often rude, in-your-face individual who caused many upsets on the American literary scene. But he was so much fun to watch on television! I remember he was on the Dick Cavett show with other authors, and with his wit and quick tongue made the others look for the exit and the audience to break up. It was great TV. But he wasn't just all bravado, he easily procured the Pulitzer Prize for literature twice! And he has the most memorable scenes and characters in all of Am. Lit.
With his Nonfiction novel ARMIES OF THE NIGHT he joined the NEW JOURNALISM authors such as Tom Wolfe(ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST), Truman Capote(IN COLD BLOOD), and others. New Journalism was a form of writing that combined fiction with nonfiction sometimes in the first person and sometimes not. I really don't see the need to explore in detail this new form of writing except to say that Mailer took them all on and won the Pulitzer for this book. ARMIES OF THE NIGHT deals with the march on the Pentagon in 1967.
It's interesting to note that now there many forms of journalism mostly because of this alteration by these authors in the early 70's. But presently the memoir has taken center stage in popular books. And memoirs are becoming more fiction than actual memories of past experiences which harks back to the NEW JOURNALISM of Wolfe and Mailer. The best example of a fictional memoir recently is James Frey's A MILLION LITTLE PIECES that upset Oprah so much(I love it!). Frey was giving a nod to this form of writing. But now everybody looks on memoirs with suspicion, as they should.
Anyway, let's take a look at the books I read by Mailer. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD is a novel based on Mailer's experience in WW11. It's probably the best war novel ever written although there have been a few lately to claim that title. (by the way, Joseph Boyden's THREE DAY ROAD could easily claim that--more about him later). BARBARY SHORE: I don't remember much about this novel except it took place in a rooming house in NY, the novel was surreal. AN AMERICAN DREAM: I remember we all read this novel, it was a must. It is now considered one of mailer's weakest novels, and at the time it provoked anger from the Feminists because of its negative image of women. ARMIES OF THE NIGHT: Enjoyable and quite unique. MIAMI AND THE SIEGE OF CHICAGO: memorable. THE FIGHT: The documentary on the ALI fight was better. MARILYN: coffee table book(YAWN). THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG: Brilliant! This was an excellent book. It covers the life and execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah. Mailer won the Pulitzer for this. WHY ARE WE IN VIETNAM?: This was a strange novel, written oddly, with no exact point except to inform everyone that the young man was going to Nam in the morning. ANCIENT EVENINGS: I gave up on this novel. I never usually give up on a book, I will read a bad book just to finish it. I could not finish this novel. THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST: This is his last book before he died. It deals with Hitler as a young boy being taught by a mentor who is actually the devil. Mailer was writing a follow-up novel on this theme when he died. I didn't read it, and I probably won't.
I believe Mailer considered himself the foremost American writer, and always was in a panic to write the Great American novel. I don't believe he lived up to his hype, and he certainly did not write the Great American novel.
Next post: two Canadian writers