It sometimes chagrins me that there is no author whose work I’ll ever know the way I do Norman Mailer’s. An adolescent immersion in Alexander Pope (unlikely) or Stendhal (if only) might have stood me in better stead, but it wasn’t to be. Until I came up for air sometime after college—Mailer as lodestar didn’t survive Edith Wharton, let alone Nabokov—I was an avid member of the boys’ club inflamed by his example.
Whenever being a writer wasn’t enough to suit his churning sense of drama, Norman Mailer (1923-2007) could come up with some awfully wild-assed ways of advertising himself. They ranged from stabbing his second wife in 1960 (she lived and was dissuaded from pressing charges, and he actually got a judge to buy his argument that being labeled crazy would damage his literary reputation) to running for Mayor of New York City nine years later. But those almost seem like banal versions of Walter Mittyism gone disastrously overboard compared to Mailer’s notion that he could become a movie director—indeed, a visionary one, since why else bother if you were him?—without so much as a day’s apprenticeship.