Norman Mailer – In Requiem

I read The Fight by Norman Mailer in 1993, and quickly followed up with The Naked and the Dead and Deer Park.

I was hooked on his work from there on and moved on to other works of his and his peers, particularly Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe.

It was announced a little over an hour ago that Norman Mailer had died, aged 84.

I don’t feel anything personal for Norman, I never met him and never knew him so a feeling of loss is not something I can claim. However, as a practical example of how writing can reach out and touch someone, I can say I feel saddened that someone who wrote so eloquently and passionately on real topics of interest has indeed passed on.

Norman Kingsley Mailer, was born in New Jersey on 31 January, 1923 to Jewish parents. His father was a South African accountant and his mother ran a nursing agency and through the depths of The Depression, Norman had instilled within him a need to excel.

At 16, Norman was accepted to Harvard to study the then embryonic subject of aeronautics. He became interested in writing while at Harvard and this was intended as his path until World war 2 intervened and he was drafted , serving in the Phillippines.

After the war he enrolled at the Sorbonne and in 1948 published The Naked and the Dead, a book that described his war experiences and was to make him famous and establish him as a writer.

Norman Mailer is recognised as the principal proponent of the genre known as New Journalism and was an innovator of creative non-fiction. Much of modern reportage has its origins in New Journalism.

Mailer examined many facets of American life and politics including the Vietnam War, sex, politics, the McCarthyism hysteria, and violence. Mailer also was an activist who was not afraid to step onto platforms that were deeply unpopular, including running for Mayor of New York on a seccessionist platform (Rudy Guiliani take note) as well as campaigning (successfully) for parole for a convicted murderer.

Mailer also demonstrates that a writer need not confine themselves to lofty matters requiring weighty consideration in an Ivory Tower. Readers of my age group will remember Starsky and Hutch in the 1970’s and Mailer also produced a camp classic, Tough Guys Don’t Dance with Ryan O’Neal in the lead and based upon Mailer’s novel of the same name.

Mailer had six wives, and eight children from them plus an adopted child and resided for most of his life on Cape Cod, Massachussetts.