The Naked and the Dull J. Michael Lennon Pens an Exhaustive (and Exhausting) Life of Norman Mailer

By Hoover, Bob | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Naked and the Dull J. Michael Lennon Pens an Exhaustive (and Exhausting) Life of Norman Mailer


Hoover, Bob, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"NORMAN MAILER: A DOUBLE LIFE"

By J. Michael Lennon.

Simon & Schuster ($40).

Norman Mailer produced a prodigious amount of words in his remarkable writing career, but humility wasn't one he applied to himself. He preferred "celebrity," as the title of J. Michael Lennon's "official" biography reflects.

"Celebrities," Mailer told a TV talk show host in 1995, "are used to living with two personalities ... the at-home personality; when you're brushing your teeth you're like everybody else." The other one "has power in the world ... and people virtually [urinate] in their pants when they meet you."

Mailer explained he had lived with this "double nature" since he was 25 when his first novel, "The Naked and the Dead," appeared to critical praise in 1948. Cited as one of the first insightful novels about World War II, the book threw its young author into the limelight from which he never left.

He was remarking on this "double life" in describing his plans to write a novel about Jesus. Writes Mr. Lennon, Mailer "was confident he could make reasonable surmises about Jesus' dual nature by references to his own." That book, "The Gospel According to the Son," got a rocky reception when it was published in 1997, including one in The New Republic which inspired Mailer to punch the magazine's editor in the face.

Mailer believed that bad behavior, from stabbing his third wife so severely she nearly bled to death to carrying on hundreds of extramarital affairs, was his right. He ran for mayor of New York City, was arrested numerous times, including at the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-war march on Washington, went out of his way to insult enemies real and imagined, fathered eight children in six marriages, insisting he opposed birth control, and fearlessly, if not recklessly, attacked social and political policies from feminism to the conduct of the Cold War. …

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