Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Norman Mailer: A Warrior's Life

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Norman Mailer: A Warrior's Life

Article excerpt

MY MOTHER, OSIE REMBAR, was Norman's older, first cousin and perhaps his earliest literary advocate and critic. They were fourteen years apart. From about 1936 to 1943, Norman spent summers at her family's hotel in Long Branch, where the staff was instructed not to disturb him while he was working. It was she who not only encouraged his early writing endeavors, but argued vehemently against his studying engineering at MIT. She believed that he should attend Harvard where, in addition to engineering, he could write and study literature. She was confident in her advice because her brother Cy, who one day would be Norman's lawyer and a leading authority on the First Amendment, had graduated from Harvard in 1935 Norman wrote his prize-winning story "The Greatest Thing in the World" as a sophomore there and proved her correct.

Because of her, I knew Norman for fifty years. As my perspective changed, my regard for him deepened. It was with Norman that I first rode in a true sports car, crammed in the rear shelf of a British racing green Triumph TR3 that he hurled around the roads at Fort Monmouth with frightening speed. From that day, I knew he saw the world unlike anyone else.

Often, I would see Norman at his parents' home for holiday dinners. I remember one such dinner at which my parents and Norman discussed James Baldwin's then-recent Nobody Knows My Name in which Baldwin had written about Norman. Not having read the book, I just listened with fascination and expressed my interest in knowing more about him. Norman stared at me with an odd, questioning glance. Toward the end of the evening, Norman stood up, left the living room and returned a few minutes later with a copy of The Naked and the Dead. In an act that I have always regarded as strong literary criticism, he inscribed it "In lieu of Jimmy Baldwin."

I believe that Norman's total oeuvre will stand as the preeminent American window to the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of this century. …

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