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Mailer: A Biography Hardcover – December 9, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When a biography opens with an account of its subject making a drunken fool of himself at his 50th birthday party, readers may wonder if the author has an axe to grind. On the contrary, Mary Dearborn views America's biggest Bad Boy novelist with the same judicious eye she trained on Henry Miller in The Happiest Man Alive, candidly discussing faults without feeling obliged to lambaste their possessor. In the case of Norman Mailer, Dearborn's book is less notable for the biographical facts all solidly laid out--but no differently or better than in previous biographies--than for her intelligent understanding of his significance in postwar American culture. Novels like The Naked and the Dead (published in 1948, when Mailer was just 25) are not as important, in Dearborn's view, as such later works as The Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner's Song (1979), in which Mailer blurred the line between fact and fiction--using himself as a character to illustrate central issues in American society. Even those who regret the erasure of boundaries fencing off private from public life must admit this is a central development of our time, and Mailer played a key role in making it intellectually respectable--or at least defensible. The many wives, the drunken brawls, the literary feuds are less interesting, though Dearborn conscientiously covers them all. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Setting a standard for lucidity and general competence that even Mailer's authorized biographer will be hard pressed to reach, Dearborn's unauthorized life tells how the writer of The Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song "ran with his celebrity as far as he could." Dearborn, who has also written biographies of Henry Miller and Louise Bryant, recounts Mailer's early years at Harvard, his first success in his 20s with The Naked and the Dead and his rough and tumble later years as one of the keenest of the New Journalism, nonfiction novelists. There is clearly much very juicy material to be covered here, and Dearborn does it well. She is devastating in her treatment of Mailer's violent alcoholic excesses, painting an unforgettable portrait of the author on the night he stabbed his wife: one minute picking a fight with George Plimpton on the street, the next frightening the guests at his party and finally, inexplicably, almost killing her. Dearborn artfully explicates some of Mailer's more elusive texts, such as the famous passage in his essay "The White Negro" in which he apparently advocates the killing of 50-year-old shopkeepers for the sheer therapeutic effect of it. And she is careful in narrating the stories of Mailer's seemingly endless marriages and affairs. In the end, Dearborn sees her subject, now 76 and weather-beaten, as the macho man who plays by his rulesAand will always do almost anything for the right price. Comfortable, finally, with his bank accounts, Mailer could defend the critical beating his book on Marilyn Monroe received in 1974 by contending, "I'm not going to sit here and bleed for the American public when the book was conceived by all in the first place as a project that would ideally make money." 38 pages of illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (December 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395736552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395736555
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,619,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Norman Mailer is the Ultimate Bad Boy. Jay McInerny and Bret Easton Ellis are nothing compared to Norman. He paved the way and it's really interesting to read about the life of someone who has made it as a bad boy. The women who fall for him, the publishers who pay him mountains of money... he is a talented writer, but it leads the reader to the question about how much we all overcompensate artist celebrities. I saw the pictures of the beautiful women and read the descriptions of their magnetic personalities and I couldn't imagine why they chose to overlook his enormous ego. But I shouldn't sound superior. I read the whole book in a weekend.
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Format: Paperback
Mary Dearborn has written a biography with new material about an old genius. I know because i allowed her to interview me when I was suspect of other writers and refused their requests. For eight years I had an affair with Norman Mailer. Mary Dearborn was the first author to record our love affair with accuracy. I trusted Dearborn because I had read her previous books and was impressed by her honesty and writing style which flows. She does not shy away from taking Mailer to task about his stabbing one of his wives,, Adele , in an alcoholic blackout. Mailer never during his lifetime took full responsibility for this horrific event, yet Dearborn, who respects his writing, does not respect his denial. Brava for Mary V. Dearborn.
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Format: Hardcover
Ms. Dearborn's book, though a good read, seems to be mostly an update of the previous biographies of Mailer. It's not clear what else she brought to the subject. Her views of Mailer's books are fairly representative of conventional wisdom (she liked "Armies of the Night", didn't like "Of a Fire on the Moon") and her efforts to chronicle his personal foibles are fairly predictable. I admit my bias as an unabashed Mailer fan, and perhaps that led me to expect more discussion of the literary aspects of Mailer's life, since the personal matters had already been examined extensively by Hillary Mills and others. Still, I enjoyed the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Mailer stands as one of the most biographied of living important writers, and you wonder why Dearborn bothered with this project at all. I would guess it was precisely because there is so much already extant material, primary and secondary, that she thought the material would fall together in a sing song formula, a recital of grimmly familiar facts. Such seems the case. The "unprecedented" access she has to you materials in regards to Mailer's work and life is a reedy claim, a dead blade of grass the wind blows away, and the author's absolute inability to bring any insight, interpretation or analysis to Mailer's work is infuriating. Now , one may presume, Mailer's career is at a point when the longer view of a 51 years of writing is most what this work demands, and Dearborn gives us summer re-runs. This book is like reading old gossip magazines. One mourns the trees sacrificed to print this screed.
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