J. Michael Lennon has captured Norman Mailer to the fullest extent possible, in the biography, Norman Mailer: A Double Life. Through his meticulous attention to detail, and his extensive research, he has brought the reader a stark, undoctored, realistic approach to the life that Mailer led, both privately and publicly. There were instances where I wish that Lennon was not so illuminating with is minute word-imagery, but I am aware that those segments are a part of the whole.
In reading the biography, I could see where Mailer was very possessive and protective of his books. If anyone dare to give a negative review of one of his works, he would respond back in a defensive manner, trying to justify why he wrote what he did. He didn’t feel that others necessarily understood the meaning behind the content. He wanted to be regarded as a great American writer. Many critics and readers saw him as such, yet many didn’t.
Mailer’s competitive edge was highlighted within the pages, and his views on other authors and their novels were not always positive. He felt that the great American novelist of the 20th century had yet to appear. He endeavored to be that author, and his ego convinced him that he was.
Lennon has created a biography that depicts a man who, in my opinion, seems to be floundering. I could see him at odds with his sexual escapades, his divorces, his children and his own opinions of the world and of himself. At odds, meaning his actions and the consequences of them. At times, he appeared to be so full of himself, and his activities and sexual prowess never ceased, at the expense of others. But, more importantly at the expense of himself.
Mailer didn’t seem able to control his impulses, and he let them take over in social and private situations. Even if he could control the impulses, from the material garnered in the biography, I doubt he would have. Sex and women were major factors in his life. For him the events leading to self-gratification were a form of power over another.
He seemed to use his sexual experiences as material for his novels. He enjoyed the self-absorption and the impulses he acted upon, while they were occurring. Afterwards, he often felt that he spread himself too wide, but it did not stop him from continuing his more or less promiscuous behavior. From alcohol and drugs, to sexual exploits, his addictions were many.
Marriage and infidelity were one of his double lives. Becoming a great author and juggling fame and his personal life was another one of his double lives. Author and critic, power play and morals, hardworking and merriment, all of these and so much more are described in the several double lives that Mailer involved himself in.
J. Michale Lennon has brought every aspect of Norman Mailer’s life to the forefront. From the despicable and ugly acts to the kindnesses, we are witness to a man who led a life filled with prolific writings, nine children, six wives, varied emotions, and filled with self-realized consequences for the choices he made.
Norman Mailer: A Double Life is a long book, yet within the pages, nothing is left for us to wonder regarding the context of his life.