There are roughly 747 pages to Lennon’s biography, and quite a bit of intimacy packed into it. There are times when I felt as though I was peeking through the Mailers’ keyhole, other times their porch window. Either way, J. Michael Lennon has rendered an author who was arguably one of our greatest in such a way that feels as though he’s just stepped through the door.
The research and writing “were up to the last minute” –seven years. Four years prior to that reading the letters, a collection of which Lennon hopes to edit and publish next. “There were over 50,000 written to over 4,000 people,” he said.
What’s perhaps most striking about this biography is just how well Lennon draws together the complex tangle of contradictions that Mailer embodied and gives them a logical sheen. He knew his subject well: Lennon first met Mailer in 1972 and remained his close friend, seeing him regularly up until his death. On his website, Lennon says that Mailer felt comfortable in the company of Irish-Americans. “I’ve always loved the Irish and felt very close to them,” Mailer explained at one point. “The Irish have this great bravura, a style, an elegance.”
The Jewish Advocate reviews the biography. (Subscription required.) Here are a couple of excerpts: “J. Michael Lennon’s biography “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” (Simon and Schuster), released in mid-October, makes Mailer’s voice come alive. It’s almost as if Mailer himself is sitting at the kitchen table having a conversation with you over a glass of scotch. [. . .] Lennon delivers without producing any judgment, letting the facts unfold – sometimes humorously, sometimes tragically. [. . .] Lennon gives us a human look at a flawed man who redefined American literature and invented a new form of journalism. “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” is the Mailer bible for all interested in reading about this extraordinary man and his times.”
Chris Roberts is a prolific troll on Amazon, having written 276 negative (mostly one-star) reviews, since late 2010, including one for A Double Life.
Lover, fighter, saint and sinner – a fascinating biography skilfully traces the contradictions that defined Norman Mailer.
The subtitle “A Double Life” serves as Lennon’s governing premise for exploring how Mailer’s personal life mattered to his writing life and vice versa, but he does far more than merely affirm this abundantly obvious, abundantly volatile relationship. He makes strong cases throughout the biography for the inherent strengths of Mailer’s writing, particularly his achievements in reconceptualising the possibilities of journalism.
The extent to which Mailer’s oeuvre will resonate with a new audience may depend on whether a line can be drawn between his dual role as renowned writer and notorious public persona. The division between the two is often undetectable. At times, this is by Mailer’s design, and at times it’s due to his volatile presence at the forefront of the American cultural revolution.