Norman Mailer at 100: Conversations, Correlations, Confrontations

Louisiana State Univ. Nov. 2022. 248p. ISBN 9780807178133. $34.95. LIT
The year 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Norman Mailer and the 75th anniversary of the publication of his breakout novel, The Naked and the Dead. Mailer won the Pulitzer twice and National Book Award once; he published 40 books of fiction and nonfiction and was on best-seller lists across six decades. But this long past, how much does what he had to say still matter? Begiebing (emeritus, English, Southern New Hampshire Univ; The Turner Erotica) argues “a lot.” In this slim volume, his third on Mailer, he offers a mixed bag of essays, imaginary dialogues, interviews (one real, one made up), and even a play (Ernest Hemingway and Mailer crossing the River Styx), placing Mailer in exchange with thinkers whose views illuminate or contrast with his (Didion, Emerson, Hemingway, and Whitman, plus historian Joseph Ellis and icon of second-wave feminism Kate Millett). The best essays are two on Mailer’s dialogue with second generation feminist Millett and on Didion’s reaction to his more extreme positions on certain women’s issues.
VERDICT Mailer’s work may still be a litmus test for 20th-century culture, but the episodic nature of these essays means the book will interest mostly readers already committed to reading about him.
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