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An American Dream [Paperback]

Norman Mailer
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 4, 1999
Stephen Rojack is a decorated war hero, a former Congressman, and a certified public intellectual with his own television show. He is also married to the very rich, very beautiful, and utterly amoral Deborah Caughlin Kelly. But one night, in the prime of his existence, he hears the moon talking to him on the terrace of a fashionable New York high-rise, and it is urging him to kill himself. It is almost as a defense against that infinitely seductive voice that Rojack murders his wife.In this wild battering ram of a novel, which was originally published to vast controversy in 1965, Norman Mailer creates a character who might be a fictional precursor of the philosopher-killer he would later profile in The Executioner's Song. As Rojack runs amok through the city in which he was once a privileged citizen, Mailer peels away the layers of our social norms to reveal a world of pure appetite and relentless cruelty. Sensual, horrifying, and informed by a vision that is one part Nietzsche, one part de Sade, and one part Charlie Parker, An American Dream grabs the reader by the throat and refuses to let go.

Editorial Reviews


"A writer of the greatest and most reckless talents." —The New Yorker"A devastatingly alive and original creative mind." —Life"A work of fierce concentration. . . . Perfectly, and often brilliantly, realistic [with] . . . a pattern of remarkable imaginative coherence and intensity." —Harper's

About the Author

Norman Mailer was born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. In 1955, he was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He is the author of more than thirty books, including The Naked and the Dead; The Armies of the Night, for which he won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Executioner's Song, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; Harlot's Ghost; Oswald's Tale; The Gospel According to the Son, The Castle and the Forest and On God. He died in 2007.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Genius August 16, 2004
Mailer's meditation on violence and evil will not be every one's idea of a good novel to read on the beach, but An American Dream is a fully realized male fantasy wherein one set-upon, White, alcoholic, protagonist berserks himself into sequential delirium fueled rages to rid himself of the crushing banality of the culture that he feels is killing him by the inch. To do this, he commits a series of violent and insane acts, in an alcoholic haze; challenges sent him by the moon (really) whose successful completion might give him a hint of the freedom he dreams is beyond the neon-lit tarp of the Manhattan skyline. This pilgrim's progress is nothing short of an obscene fantasy, wherein our hero, a decorated war hero, former congressman and talk show host, strangles his maddening estranged wife, buggers the German maid, steals a Mafia Don's girl friend, and proceeds, in 24 hours, to lie and deceive the New York City Police Department, the Mob, with intimations that the FBI and CIA are involved invisibly in the mess he created. The plot, of course, is lurid, absurd and the product of a particular time, but Mailer's novel comes at a time when the Hemingway cult of quiet, a manly stoicism managed through a singular, privately held code of honor, was exhausted of compelling narrative potential. Mailer's idea was to see what would happen if the man who might have been the Hemingway hero, suffering his hurts in some poetic privacy, have instead a psychotic break.

Gone, we see, is the hard-carved minimalism of the Hemingway style, with Mailer offering a delirious metaphorical ride through the ugly side of individual realization. His character, Stephen Rozack, is akin to King Lear in the rain, gone insane precisely because he no longer has the staging guiding his eye and thinking.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nightmarish read January 30, 2000
This is my first Mailer novel and i was worried that it would be boring and journalistic. But I was hugely surprised at how bizzare and subjective the imagery was - imagery which seizes upon the mind almost violently. The world of Stephen Rojack is drunken, amoral, and continually teetering between the shadowy, nightmarish underworld, and the respectable day to day world. This book in many ways does read as some awful dream, a dream in which the moon speaks to you, the ledge outside begs to be walked on as a test of courage, and murder is seen as some type of primitive, sexual release. Being somewhat sentimental I can only like a novel like this so much (I did not become attached to the characters, or want to immerse myself in the world of this novel), but that does not take away from the fact that this is a really enjoyable novel, even though I was almost relieved when I was finished. This book is like when you have an awful nightmare that keeps you up all night, and even though the nighmare terrified you, you cant help thinking about how interesting the images and mental landscape of the dream was. That being said I am definitely looking forward to more Mailer because he obviously has original talent.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in New York city drives you crazy... January 6, 2000
By A Customer
Norman Mailer writes like a man possessed. His prose is dazzling and vivid but difficult to negotiate, consisting as it does of a torrent of words conveying so many images it's sometimes hard to follow. Its updated stream of consciousness style left me giddy and breathless, not always a pleasurable experience when you have to re-read large tracts to get the meaning. Non-American readers like me may find the colloquilism and some of the references difficult to connect with, but that limitation is mine alone. The novel's premise is fascinating. Stephen hears the moon urging him to suicide. He is tempted but hesitates, then goes home to murder his wife. Hard as nails (Mailer implies that's the only way to survive in New York City), Stephen's self protective instincts rises to the fore to help him make it through the murder investigation and the much anticipated confrontation with his father-in-law, but not without a good dose of tender loving care administered by a moll named Cherry. Naturally, Stephen escapes death yet again but guess who pays for it ? "An American Dream" is Mailer's masculine and testosterone-charged account of sex, politics, corruption and sleaze in the Big Apple. It is a highly impressive piece of work but I confess to being a little out of my depth with the lyricism which I found excessive.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderfully sick satire. December 26, 2001
I had two expectations of this book that bore no fruit. An english teacher I had at Columbia described the plot in such a manner as to make one feel the protagonist would be such a repulsive character as to be unfollowable and several postings on this site suggested that the narrative would be so congested with stream-of-consciousness discourse as to be unreadable. Well, Stephen Rojack may be a wife murdering, hard drinking, womanizing, sodomite, but he's the most charming character in the book and the manner in which he conveys his thoughts couldn't be more lucid and engaging than Philip Marlowe. This is a very consciously pulp novel that plays on comic book and hollywood conventions, a satirical nightmare that shouldn't be taken any more as fact than Hunter Thompson's maniacal binges in Las Vegas. The best way to imagine this book is to picture it as a stark, contrasty b+w movie directed by Stanley Kubrick from a script by Terry Southern. Sterling Hayden would be in the lead role and Liz Taylor would be the wife with Angie Dickinson as Cherry and Sammy Davis Junior as Shago and Lynn Redgrave as Ruta.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Book was OK. I expected more from all the hype I heard about it.
Published 2 months ago by Jayce
1.0 out of 5 stars An American Dream: A Novel
Prior to reading this book, I was a big Norman Mailer fan. BUT! I did not like this book at all; it is as though Mailer put all of his personal thoughts, fantasies, and feelings... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Nightmare is more like it
I'll start by saying two things. One, this is one of my all-time favorite novels, so I'm biased. Two, this novel has been reviewed ad nauseam so I won't re-hash what others have... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Kris Villager
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dream might be a Nightmare, but its Good
I think the reviewers who gave this book one star bring up some really ridiculous points. Especially the woman who says that he "raped" the maid, which is clearly not the case. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mark Sanchez
5.0 out of 5 stars Fevered, Wonderfully Dated, Unforgettable
Mailer's protagonist, Stephen Rojack, is a war hero who gets eased into politics, quits, becomes a talk show host and college professor and man about Manhattan with an heiress... Read more
Published on January 10, 2012 by louienapoli
5.0 out of 5 stars Deconstructing the dream
In some ways, Mailer's An American Dream must have shocked far more when it came out than it does now. Read more
Published on March 12, 2010 by reader 451
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading ... at least for writers ...
I first read An American Dream back in college and have reread it three times since ... it remains a haunting look at the demons inside us all. Read more
Published on December 1, 2008 by Charlie Stella
1.0 out of 5 stars How to kill your wife and be happy ever after
Stephen Rojack is (in the words of the publisher's blurb) a decorated war hero, a former Congressman and a certified public intellectual with his own television show. Read more
Published on February 29, 2008 by J C E Hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars I 've listened about 12 times in the car
I never get tired of this book by Norman Mailer as read by MacDonald Carey. He has a great voice and a great acting style that make you see the book in your head like a movie! Read more
Published on October 1, 2007 by Sandra in Motown
3.0 out of 5 stars The death of the American Dream
Mailer's `classic' story of a supposedly all-American life gone astray is at times very good, but all too often it doesn't reach the heights that it is aiming for. Read more
Published on September 4, 2007 by T. F. Johnson
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