Lennon, Michael J. Norman Mailer: A Double Life. S. & S. 2013. 928p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781439150191. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781439156209. LIT
Lennon is an old friend of American writer Norman Mailer (1927–2007), who lived near the author during his final years in Provincetown, MA, and who worked on several projects with him, including On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007) and Conversations with Norman Mailer (1988). This biography has Mailer’s blessing, and Lennon has taken Mailer’s advice—“put everything in”—to heart. Drawing on more than 45,000 letters, conversations with Mailer himself, and interviews with family, friends, and lovers, Lennon presents an exhaustive, fascinating, and fair-minded account of his subject’s life and work. He portrays Mailer as a dual-natured personality: a passive observer and an activist, a family man and a philanderer, a generous friend and someone who could hold a grudge, and a man at home with presidents and prizefighters. While Lennon treats readers to accounts of Mailer’s celebrity and his relations with stars such as Muhammad Ali and Madonna, he also explores the writer’s seamier side, including his stabbing of Adele Morales, his second wife, and his support of Jack Abbott, who committed murder after being paroled. Lennon discusses all of Mailer’s works from conception to reception, tracing his artistic development and chronicling his stormy relationships with hostile critics. VERDICT Written with the cooperation of Mailer’s family, this thoroughly researched biography promises to be definitive. Essential for anyone with a serious interest in Mailer and his work.
Mailer, Norman. Mind of an Outlaw: Selected Essays. Random. 2013. 640p. ed. by Phillip Sipiora. index. ISBN 9780812993479. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780679645658. LIT
Writer, controversial cultural icon, and National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Mailer (The Naked and the Dead; Armies of the Night; The Executioner’s Song) died in 2007, but his reputation as a giant of American letters survives. These 50 pieces—essays, speeches, screeds, and reviews—edited by Sipiora (English & film studies, Univ. of South Florida) examine artistic freedom (“What I Think of Artistic Freedom”), politics (“Christ, Satan, and the Presidential Candidate,” “Clinton and Dole: The War of the Oxymorons”), literature and writing (“The Mind of an Outlaw,” “Huckleberry Finn, Alive at 100,” “The Hazards and Sources of Writing”), social issues (“Until Dead: Thoughts on Capital Punishment”), and a host of other topics. Organized chronologically from 1942 to 2006, the selections open a window onto the capacious mind and process of one of the most volatile intellects of the 20th century; Mailer was admired and reviled in equal measure. VERDICT Plenty of critics have commented throughout the decades on Mailer’s sometimes uneven output, but very few of them ever questioned the passion or power of his prose. Taken individually, these pieces are snapshots of times and places integral to the cultural landscape of America over the last 70 years. Regarded as a whole, they serve as insightful social commentary and justification for continued attention to the writer’s work.