After he finished reading an earlier biography of himself, Norman Mailer told me, with a mixture of rue and triumph, “He missed the twinkle.” His new biographer, J. Michael Lennon, does not miss the twinkle or much else about the writer who swaggered across a half century of American life, writing novels, plays, poems, essays, journalism, even some theological speculation along with directing movies. Near the end Mailer stood, propped on two canes like a wounded mercenary who had fought behind the lines all his life, a writer/celebrity as drained by the daring and scope of his ambition to find the Northwest Passage to the origins of American mores as Theodore Roosevelt was when, scarred and fevered, he emerged from his post-presidential search for the source of the Amazon.
A long-time friend etches the extraordinary and exhaustive life of the lion of American letters. Review by Shougat Dasgupta.
When J. Michael Lennon, Emeritus Vice President for Academic Affairs and Emeritus Professor of English at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, became Norman Mailer’s authorized biographer in 2006, he must have felt like a fighter preparing for the bout of his life. Yes, Lennon had known and worked with Mailer for decades. True, in addition to being chair of the editorial board of The Mailer Review, he had written or edited several books about and with Mailer. Sure, he was the past president of the Norman Mailer Society. But none of that diminished the task before him.
Biographer Lennon knew Mailer intimately as his friend, archivist, editor of his letters (still in progress) and partner in “On God,” a series of interviews about religion. Mailer had invited Lennon to be his biographer, and this richly detailed, revealing and very frank volume is the happy result. Its heft alone would please Mailer, who produced numerous shelf-benders.