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236Reviews Manso, Peter. Mailer: His Life and Times. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. 720 pp. Cloth: $19.95. This book is a distillation of Peter Manso's taped interviews with people who know Norman Mailer. It is not so much a biography proper as a multi-voiced oral history. Manso has not written this book; he has edited it from miles of tape and done a cut-andpaste job, dispersing pieces of his interviews through his text to create a mosaic narrative. One-hundred-fifty-two people do the talking. We hear from Mailer's mother, sister, brother-in-law, friends, secretaries, fellow writers, editors, boyhood buddies, lawyer, doctor , and from Mailer himself. Along the way are letters and excerpted reviews of Mailer's books. The Mailer presented here is not exaggerated or over-dramatized. He is engagingly vivid simply because the people who know him best are doing the talking. Their collective voice describes a man remarkably prismatic and possessed of an enormously powerful creative energy. Full of mysterious life, he springs out at the reader and becomes very much a felt presence: "Even sitting with him," says George Plimpton, "when he's absolutely at ease, the energy is there, something almost palpable, and I've never known a person who had it to such a degree" (p. 577). The bedrock impression we have of Mailer in this book is of a man who has suffered one emotional bludgeon after another—five searing divorces, seventeen days of psychiatric observation at Bellevue Hospital, criminal arrests, accusations of plagiarism, one public mortification compounded by another year in year out—and comes through it all not just standing on his feet but flourishing, actually thriving, by writing over thirty books, several of which have earned strong critical and popular approval and been translated into over twenty languages. The inescapable conclusion is that the tumult of Mailer's life fuels his writing. His behavior is often deemed self-humiliating, self-promoting, megalomaniacal. Yet that behavior and his creativity are vitally related. The one cannot exist without the other. Those who criticize Mailer for his "craziness" do not realize that if his devils were to leave him, his angels would surely follow. And he knows it. Manso tries to generate an air of seriousness about Mailer the artist by interspersing his text with excerpts from book reviews, but the excerpts are small and often do not explain Mailer's thematic and stylistic intentions. The main importance of Mailer for us is, of course, not his personality but his writing, which is presented in Manso's book as that thing Mailer does that goes on sometime in the morning and often precedes a dinner party. Still, given that Manso inadequately renders Mailer the artist, he gets us terrifically close to Mailer the man, and therein lies the real strength of this book. Whether or not one likes the life and times of Norman Mailer, this book can be infectious. It makes the reader feel like an insider to the events it recounts. And from the typical male viewpoint, Mailer's life, despite all its dreadful lows, is absolutely exciting. The variety of beautiful women, the free-wheeling good times, the exhilarating macho camaraderie, the boxing, the travelling, it all stirs our manhood, our romantic hearts. Such a response to Mailer's life may be called immature. I prefer to call it youthful. "I've known many novelists," says writer Midge Decter, but Mailer is one of the few "who is, not only at his typewriter but also in his being, genuinely open and curious about everybody around him. It's a quality novelists are supposed to have—I know almost none who have it" (p. 264). Reading Mailer: His Life and Times gives us a sharp, felt sense of what Decter is talking about and inspirits us with something of Norman Mailer's zeal for life. Shepherd CollegePhilip Bufithis ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
p. 236
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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