I tried to read Norman's long, humongous novel about Cleopatra but couldn't stomach it. I remember reading his Why Are We in Vietnam and not understanding it; thinking it nonsense as I read it--Norman was writing about Texans and Dallas, too, and, well, as hard as he tried to capture the Texas reasoning he missed it totally in a novel sense. And I feel bad talking about Norman like this because at one time I reveled in his "revolutionary" books, Advertisements for Myself and Armies of the Night and then when I first moved to New York City Norman was running for mayor, with Jimmy Breslin as his running mate, and he had some good ideas, too, like New York City being made the 51st state saying that New York City had nothing whatsoever to do with New York State anymore and was even geographically located outside New York State. He also wanted to have "sweet" Sundays when he'd let no cars into Manhattan and turn the streets in walkways. Another good idea he had was to build a monorail system around Manhattan and then the other boroughs. He wanted to build huge parking buildings at the end of every bridge and tunnel and also have a monorail station there and you could get on the monorail and it would bring you to the part of the city you needed to get to--he wanted to build tunnels under some streets for truck traffic. Also when I moved to NYC my wife became a charter member of NOW, the National Organization of Women, and I remember being at their first meeting--the only meeting I think they let men in, voting soon afterwards to ban men from the meetings, which was approved and later enforced. I think it's because the men at the first meeting asked a lot of questions, sort of ridiculous questions that these "feminists" had no time for, which with Rowe v Wade and bra burnings and the ERA, the Equal Rights for Women Amendment to the Constitution--whatever happened to it?--to deal with. I don't think it passed 2/3rds of the states approving it or whatever stupid legalese nonsense our idiot Congress imposes on us--like using every trick in the book to keep our opinions from being heard and read. And at that first meeting the women all railed against Norman Mailer and Kate Millett was there and she really berated old Norman who was taking his macho boxing-stance against "feminist" women at that time--Norman said Freud was right that women did envy the penis and all women needed a man's penis, the very salvation of mankind depended on the penis and it was only natural that the penis needed a slot to insert itself in in order for it to do what it does best, manufacture semen in its testicles and then shoot that semen with a shotgun-like blast into that vagina, baby, deep into that vagina and into those ovarian blossomings--and these women hated Norman for his pretentious attitude toward "the babes," as they said Norman thought of women. I was kind'a on old Norman's side over the feminist issue. I read Kate Millett; she was a Lesbian; she wrote like a Lesbian; at least that's what Norman told me.
I'm pretty sure Norman didn't have much respect for women writers. I remember he didn't like Mary McCarthy and I loved Mary McCarthy, especially the book where Bunny shows sweet, innocent little Mary how to run her bow over his violin string. Ah, Bunny, you old rascal; and Edmund Wilson intrigued me with his diaries; his notebooks for the 19-teens, the 20s, the 30s, the 40s, the 50s--and Bunny was a character in the lives and world of Scott Fitzgerald, who I thought was the most polished writer I'd ever read--Tender Is the Night and Gatsby two of the best novels I've ever read; and Ernie "Don't Call Me Ernie" Hemingway; and John Dos Pasos, and what a great read his USA Trilogy is--great read, before John turned total asshole Conservative in his old age; he and John O'Hara...the bastards; both flaming progressives at one time and then becoming cold-hearted rabelrousing rightwingers in their old age; and John O'Hara's Appointment in Samara thrilled the hell out of me, too, as long as I'm talkin' books.
I, however, never read The Naked and the Dead. That was because of Hemingway. Hemingway was my writing hero right after Gertrude Stein when I was young and wanting to be a writer and Hemingway referred to Mailer as "the Little Colonel" and said Mailer had no business writing a book about World War II when he'd never even seen combat and was a pencil pusher in the Army. Yet, I knew Mailer admired Hemingway. The story I'm thinking about happened when Mailer sent Hemingway a copy of the Naked and the Dead manuscript and that's when Hemingway started putting Norman down.
The first thing of Norman's I read was a short story about a guy living in Greenwich Village and making it with an NYU Jewish girl and being macho and I think that may have been in a New American Review, a great paperback-book-size literary journal published by New American, one of the great indie American publishing houses to come out of World War II. And, yes, I read Norman's White Nigger out in San Francisco when I lived high on a hill on Washington Street but I didn't leave my heart there, no, I did not; it was too expensive; my heart couldn't afford to be left there and I never considered myself a white nigger--Norman invented "wigger" didn't he?
I followed Norman over the years and, yes, I read and liked Executioner's Song, though Mailer's love of the criminal as a literary being was too much for me. I also read his big book on Marilyn Monroe in which he spins Marilyn according to his macho shaping of this sex object in his mind and concludes that yes indeedy Marilyn was murdered and probably by the Kennedy bros, especially Robert Kennedy who was Attorney General of the US when he was F-ing her--wow, just think of those Kennedy boys--Johnny-We-Knew-Him-Well banging her one night and Clean-Cut Bobby banging her the next night. Norman was suspicious of Kennedy and his involvement with the crime families of Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles--the Kennedy boys's father after all had made his fortune bootlegging and then investing his bootlegging bonanza into Hollywood studios--and then he used to bring Gloria Swanson home with him back to Back Bay Boston and he'd whiz through the house with her, right past his little family with sweet Mama Rose saying grace at the dining table and right on up the stairs to his suite where next thing the Kennedy tykes and Mama Rose would hear would be Daddy banging the sweet bejesus out of Gloria Swanson, right above their heads--and Gloria was said to be a notorious screamer, too, when she was banged properly.
I saw Norman on teevee only a few months back. He was peddling a book he'd written with his son, Buffalo. He looked pretty healthy then but he did say it was no fun getting old and how he hated it.
So, so long, Norman; I can't say I'll miss you; like I said, it's been a long time since I've read you, but one never knows, I may pick up say Deer Park and read it again--who knows. So, Mailer's gone at 84--that's pretty good for a heavy drinker and steady pot smoker--and it's certainly worth a lift of a couple'a growler's of stout in his honor.
for The Daily Growler
Norman Mailer, voice of generation, dead at age 84
Updated Sat. Nov. 10 2007 5:36 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. novelist Norman Mailer died early today of kidney failure, his literary executor said.
Mailer, 84, died at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, said J. Michael Lennon, who is also the writer's official biographer.
Mailer's debut novel "The Naked and the Dead," published in 1948 at age 25, is considered a classic of American literature. "The Army of the Night" has been called a masterwork of literary journalism.
In addition to his writing, Mailer also gained notoriety for cultivating a macho image. He drank, smoked pot, got in fights and married six times.
During one drunken party, he nearly killed his second wife by stabbing her.
He brought the term "hip" to the world in a famous 1950s essay entitled "The White Negro."
Mailer also helped found the leftist Village Voice alternative newspaper in New York, contributing social and political commentary.
He was born Jan. 31, 1923 in Long Branch, N.J. to a South Africa-born accountant father and a mother who ran a housekeeping and nursing service.
The Mailer family soon moved to Brooklyn, which Mailer would describe as "the most secure Jewish environment in America."
After going through public schools, Mailer went on to earn an engineering science degree from Harvard, graduating in 1943.
He got drafted into the Army and saw combat duty as an infantryman in the Philippines -- an experience that would form the basis for "The Naked and the Dead," written in Paris while he was a post-graduate student.
In that book, Mailer developed the word "fug" as a substitute for a particular four-letter expletive.
The book brought him instant fame, but he also wrote some clunkers such as "Barbary Shore" (1951) and "Deer Park" (1955).
In the 1960s, Mailer railed against the Vietnam War and in his later years, the U.S.'s involvement in Iraq.
However, he also spoke out against women's liberation.
He has been banned for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with fellow novelist Gore Vidal and challenged professional boxers. Mailer even made one unsuccessful run for mayor of New York.
For all of Mailer's antics, Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov wrote in 1968, "in the end it is the writing that will count."