For fans of the novelist-pugilist, this posthumous fruit of his correspondence — 716 letters out of almost 50,000 — is indispensable.
Perhaps more than any other major writer but Eugene O’Neill, Mailer produced some of the best and the worst examples of American art. His letters are frank about his own uncertainly as to where he stood in the literary pantheon.
Most great writers are also great talkers, but writing begins where talking ends: in silence. Norman Mailer is one of literature’s great talkers, and his voice—his speaking voice—is crucial to his work. As a founding partner of a new upstart Greenwich Village weekly in the mid-nineteen-fifties, he even came up with its title: the Village Voice. Perhaps no writer of his time endured such keen conflict between his personal voice and his literary voice, and that conflict is at the center of “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer,” edited by J. Michael Lennon.
Over the course of about 60 years, Norman Mailer, in addition to more than 30 books, wrote some 45,000 letters. About 700 pieces of his correspondence have been published in “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer” (Random House), edited by J. Michael Lennon. Mailer, who died in 2007 at age 84, wrote to Henry Kissinger, the Clintons, Monica Lewinsky, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Lillian Hellman, and many other public figures.
Mr. Lennon (also Mailer’s official archivist) is back with a volume, nearly as thick and heavy, of Mailer’s correspondence (and a small sampling, Mr. Lennon tells us, from some 45,000 items), reflecting the thoughts and concerns of the nearly seven decades that Mailer played a role in American literary life — at times major, at others peripheral, but always a presence.
Norman Mailer was known for his toughness and temper, and his letters have plenty of that, but they also show his kindness and generosity with other writers.
Norman Mailer entered Harvard in the fall of 1939, just as World War II began. His famous novel about part of that war, The Naked and the Dead, was published in 1948, and at age 25, like Lord Byron, he awoke to find himself famous. Sixty years later, looking back on the book’s immense success—it topped the New […]
Reading this utterly gripping and meticulous life of the famously combative Norman Mailer is as good as meeting him in the flesh.
Lennon captures Mailer’s enormous drive to master his craft, to experiment with form and genre, to build a reputation, and to contend with the large issues of his country and culture for six decades. This biography is not only indispensable for students of Mailer, but also for anyone interested in taking the pulse of the United States through those decades. More and more, Mailer put himself on the stages of literary and political history, shaping both through his participation and shaping our collective memory through his influential, if sometimes abrasive, representations.