Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailier 1923-2007

Norman Mailer is dead at age 84- rest-in-peace.

My first experience with Norman Mailer was reading his first book, the WWII novel that made him famous, The Naked and the Dead. Then there is his novel about Utah's own Gary Gilmore, The Executioner's Song. But the Mailer novel that made the deepest impression on me and that came out just after I finished The Naked and the Dead, is Harlot's Ghost. Harlot's Ghost is a big, wide, meandering novel about the CIA and is not regarded as one of his best. It may even be out-of-print. He also wrote a book on the life of Jesus, The Gospel According to the Son: A Novel, which is a surprisingly straightforward account of the life of the man from Nazareth and superior to Kazantsakis' The Last Temptation of Christ. Mailer was Jewish and was always fascinated, not so much by religion, but by God, faith, and religious ideas. In a strange way, in an idiosyncratic manner, Mailer was a man of faith, but, like all wise men, he understood the dangers inherent to religious belief, the destructive force of bad religion.

I have been planning to read his last novel, The Castle in the Forest: A Novel, a fantastic tale of the conception and early years of Adolf Hitler, as well as On God: An Uncommon Conversation and will do so now from a whole new perspective. Mailer was at both his best and worst as a writer in writing from the realm of the fantastic. When at his best, his writing style was very muscular and unmistakably masculine. He could make the tallest tale, like Hitler's conception by the devil in his last novel, a passage I heard him read on the radio, sound absolutely believable. Like all truly interesting people, Mailer had some wacky ideas and was quite forceful about relaying them. Politically, Mailer and I had a lot in common, not everything by a long stretch, and I always enjoy listening to his lectures and speeches, as well as reading his essays, especially on political, social, and cultural issues. He was undoubtedly a political radical. Norman Mailer also bore a striking resemblance to my maternal grandfather, with whom I was very close and who died when I was ten.

Those who write about Mailer from a Catholic P.O.V. over the next few days will have little good to write about him. Therefore, I do not mind declaring that I admired him while often vehemently disagreeing with him. He was one of those people with whom I would have loved to stay out all night drinking, conversing, and arguing. His advice to young writers was "Avoid booze, pot, too much sex, too much failure in one's private life." Mailer was married six times and has nine children.

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