Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Living with Norman Mailer

Ed here: In my youth I had three literary heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and (most obsessively) Norman Mailer. I still revere all three of them today. By far Mailer was the most fun. As a drunkard I watched his numerous high-wire acts with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment. For all the seeming fun in Mailer though there was great darkness and pain; maybe true madness. Maybe that was why he wrote so well about America's own madness. He was our Dreiser. He probably would have been more acceptable to the establishment if he hadn't provided such great tabloid copy over the years. In the latest New York Observer Christian Lorentzen reviews A Ticket To The Circus--the new memoir by Norris Church Mailer, sixth wife and widow to Norman Mailer. Here's an interesting segment of the lengthy and very well done review:


Phone bills showed her he had placed calls to mysterious numbers all over the country. When Mr. Mailer gave her the keys to his writing studio, “I went straight to his desk and opened the drawer,” Mrs. Mailer writes. “It was crammed full of letters and pictures and notes from other women. … He had obviously been cheating on me for a very long time with a small army of women.”

So Mrs. Mailer issued her husband an ultimatum: stop seeing anyone else, or she would leave him. Mr. Mailer offered a novel excuse: He had been faithful for years, until he started research on Harlot’s Ghost, his epic 1991 novel about the C.I.A. “I suppose it could even be true,” Mrs. Mailer writes.

“All the clandestine talking on pay phones, making secret plans, hiding and sneaking around, were perfect spy maneuvers. He said he needed to live that kind of double life, to know what his characters were going through.”

A bigger surprise for the tall, gorgeous, then–42-year-old Mrs. Mailer was that many of the other women “were older than I was, some were older than he was.” (A few were also short and overweight.) As Mr. Mailer explained to her, “sometimes he needed to be the good-looking one.” (Mrs. Mailer also admits to infidelities of her own: one before and one after her husband’s confession.)

“Why had I been so consumed by this old, fat, bombastic, lying little dynamo?” Mrs. Mailer asks. The rest of her book answers that question. In Mrs. Mailer’s clear and graceful storytelling, Mr. Mailer’s immense personal charisma acts as a controlling force.

for the rest go here:
http://www.observer.com/2010/culture/sixth-wife

5 comments:

Charlieopera said...

Too good to pass up, Ed. I just ordered this one and look forward to the entertainment.

Mary said...

Man, my life is so.......uneventful. The biggest excitement I've had lately is discovering a product called "Stink Free" for cat urine odor..... ;o)
Mary C.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Blech to Mailer and his widow. How long did she wait after he died to pursue a book deal?

I made my through the enticingly-titled Advertisements for Myself after reading the famous essay, "The White Negro," which was stunningly disappointing. Based on this book, I can only conclude that Mailer was a mediocre writer of fiction, a poor essayist and thinker and a pretty lousy human being.

BTW, the wife he stabbed also affixed her name to a tell-all memoir some years ago.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We heard him give a talk in Cape Cod a few year's back. He was writing poetry and it was terrible, but he was charismatic--even at the end. Why do writers try poetry when they hit the wall?
Definitely want to read this book.

Charlieopera said...

Patti, send me your address and I'll send it along after I finish.