Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Dies at 84

Norman Mailer died in Manhattan this morning at the age of 84. You can read really well-done obituaries here (NY Times) and here (the BBC).

I won't try to provide a full summary of his life's accomplishments; for that you can read his New York Times obituary. Here in the five boroughs, he was a local celebrity of the sort that can only exist in New York. He advocated for black liberation decades before it really became fashionable, and he was an early and vocal opponent of United States involvement in Vietnam - he was even arrested for his participation in several particularly raucous protests. Personally, however, he was enormously arrogant, and sort of a dick - he was a vocal opponent of the feminist movement, was married six different times, and, in 1962, stabbed his wife at a dinner party, almost killing her (she declined to press charges, which makes one wonder why the District Attorney didn't press charges on his own motion). Still, he won two Pulitzer Prizes - in 1968 for The Armies of the Night (which also won the National Book Award) and in 1979 for The Executioner's Song, both of which were totally deserved and neither of which is his best work. That would be The Naked and The Dead, which I consider to be one of the great must-read war novels ever written. As a writer, Mailer had serious game, although he all too often let it run unchecked, resulting in lengthy, convoluted, failed epics such as Ancient Evenings and Harlot's Ghost.

Mailer is also notable for his prodigious output of essays, many of which have been praised as classics of the genre, for his sportswriting, for his charming documentary interviews, most notable in When We Were Kings, and for his failed New York City mayoral campaign, the central platform of which was New York secession from the State of New York to become America's 51st state. What a weird, fascinating guy.


Jake Taylor said...

I've actually never read any of Mailer's books, and didn't know about some of the more bizarre details of his life.

However, it's worth mentioning that in all the criticisms I've ever read about the Bush Administration (many), I've never seen better insult than his comments in New York Magazine in 2004:

"The real story was in the faces. All those faces on the Bush team. What you saw was the spiritual emptiness of those people. Bush has one of the emptiest faces in America. He looks to have no more depth than spit on a rock. It could be that the most incisive personal crime committed by George Bush is that he probably never said to himself, 'I don’t deserve to be president.' You just can’t trust a man who’s never been embarrassed by himself. The vanity of George W. stands out with every smirk. He literally cannot control that vanity. It seeps out of every movement of his lips, it squeezes through every tight-lipped grimace. Every grin is a study in smugsmanship."

Not quite Lloyd Bentsen wrecking Dan Quayle in the '88 debate, but still pretty solid.

Wade Garrett said...

Also - and I can't believe I forgot to mention this in my first post - but Norman Mailer was one of the original co-founders of the Village Voice, back in 1952.