J. Michael Lennon, the official biographer of Norman Mailer, knew Mailer for thirty-five years, and in writing this biography, he has had the cooperation of Mailer’s late widow, Norris Church, his ex-wives, and all of his children, as well as his sister, Barbara. He also had access to Mailer’s vast, unpublished correspondence and papers, and he interviewed dozens of people who knew Mailer. Norman Mailer: A Double Life gives us the man in full, a remarkable and unique figure in the context of his times.
Norman Mailer was one of the giants of American letters and one of the most celebrated public figures of his time. He was a novelist, journalist, biographer, and filmmaker; a provocateur and passionate observer of his times; and a husband, father, and serial philanderer.
Perhaps nothing characterized Mailer more than his unbounded ambition. He wanted not merely to be the greatest writer of his generation, but a writer great enough to be compared to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. As Michael Lennon describes, he even had presidential ambitions, although he settled for running for mayor of New York City. He championed personal freedom and civil liberties, calling himself a “left conservative,” and yet he was Enemy #1 of the Women’s Movement. He was as pugnacious in real life as in print, engaging in famous feuds and fights. Although he considered himself first and foremost a novelist, his greatest literary contribution may have been in journalism, where he used his novelistic gifts in tandem with self-revelation to explore the American psyche. In that regard, the subtitle of his Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning Armies of the Night is telling: “History as a Novel, the Novel as History.” He would return to certain subjects obsessively: John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, sex, technology, and the intricate relationship of fame and identity. Michael Lennon’s definitive biography captures Mailer in all his sharp complexities and shows us how he self-consciously invented and reinvented himself throughout his lifetime.
Arranged by Alex Garnett.