Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-x

The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931–2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature.

As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, “the...

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Chapter 1 Understanding Norman Mailer

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pp. 1-13

One of Norman Mailer’s favorite quotes was that offered by Nobel Prize–winning author André Gide: “Do not understand me too quickly.”1 Thus, there would seem to be a certain irony in penning a book titled Understanding Norman Mailer, for in both his life and his work, Mailer embodied Gide’s remark, resisting any easy exegesis or conclusions. However, it is precisely because of his investment in dialectic, intellectual rigor, and occasional elusiveness that Mailer’s body of work can reflect the true intent of this book....

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Chapter 2 The Naked and the Dead and Its Aftermath

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pp. 14-33

In 1948, Mailer published The Naked and the Dead, which became an immediate success and introduced Mailer as a formidable presence on the American literary scene, launching his career as one of America’s foremost authors and cultural commentators.1 The novel, based on Mailer’s own experiences as a private stationed in the Philippines during World War II, follows the journey of the 112th Cavalry Regiment as they embark on a reconnaissance mission around a fictional South Pacific island called Anopopei. The mission itself, along with the ensemble cast of soldiers, is also fictionalized, though many of the characters...

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Chapter 3 An American Voice and An American Dream

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pp. 34-49

After the controversy surrounding the publication of The Deer Park, Mailer took a hiatus from fiction; it would be nearly ten years before he would publish his next novel. Yet Mailer was by no means idle in the meantime, publishing a number of notable, influential, and at times provocative pieces during the ensuing decade. He contributed frequently to Commentary, Dissent, the Village Voice, and Esquire, well known and widely read for their editorial coverage of politics, cultural commentary, and current events. Mailer would later compile...

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Chapter 4 Mailer on War, Women, Politics, and Film

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pp. 50-72

Though Mailer had been deeply concerned with and involved in American politics from the start of his career, his involvement accelerated in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. This was an incredibly prolific period for Mailer: in a span of only five years, he produced one novel (Why Are We in Vietnam?), six nonfiction books (The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Of a Fire on the Moon, The Prisoner of Sex, St. George and the Godfather, and Existential Errands), and three experimental films (Wild 90, Beyond the Law,...

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Chapter 5 Exploring American Mysteries: Mailer’s Interpretive Biographies

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pp. 73-93

In addition to his involvement in and commentary on American politics, Mailer took a keen interest in the lives of a number of controversial and elusive American figures throughout the course of his career. In the 1970s, Mailer published several in-depth pieces on such individuals, offering unique, interrogative profiles of Gary Gilmore, Marilyn Monroe, and Muhammad Ali.1 Of these profiles, The Executioner’s Song, the nonfictional account of the events leading up to and surrounding Gilmore’s conviction and execution, has been...

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Chapter 6 The Divided Self across Genre: Novels of the 1980s and 1990s

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pp. 94-112

During the 1980s and 1990s, Mailer continued to experiment with a variety of narrative styles, publishing works that ranged from an epic tale of Ancient Egypt (1983’s Ancient Evenings), a murder mystery (1984’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance), a meticulously researched CIA novel (1991’s Harlot’s Ghost), and a novella that reimagines the life of Jesus, written in a language imitative of the Christian New Testament (1997’s The Gospel According to the Son). While these novels vary widely in many respects, they are linked by at least one common...

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Chapter 7 Concluding with Questions

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pp. 113-120

In the work he published during the last decade of his life, Mailer continued to expound on the ideas and philosophies that had intrigued him throughout his career. In later essays and interviews, including those published in The Big Empty (2006) and On God (2007), Mailer offers some of his sharpest and most poignant cultural commentaries, sustaining his critical appraisal of the American political system and the country’s political leaders. In Why Are We At War? (2003), Mailer scrutinizes the George W. Bush administration’s...

Notes

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pp. 121-130

Bibliography

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pp. 131-134

Index

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pp. 135-137