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Mailer: his life and times.

Did you hear about the time when Norman tipped over the...? Is Norman's bigger than...? Anecdote and reputation: that is the stuff, the stuffing really, of Peter Manso's relentless compliation of 150 interviews on the subject of Norman Mailer.

It's almost as if Mailer has deliberately created himself to be the source not only of shimmering autobiographical work, as in Armies of the Night and Advertisements for Myself, but also of biography. His life is as evocative and evolving as an endless Oriental scroll painting: early fame, excursions, triumph and error. Mailer's life calls out for a biographer of brilliance, one able to do a bit more than collect tape recordings.

Organized like George Plimpton's and Jean Stein's book on the femme fatale Warhol socialite, Edie Sedgwick, Mailer begins with little Norman in short pants and ends with him writing Tough Guys Don't Dance to pay the bills. The collage-interview form here is one of intellectual laziness and provides, at best, an archive for a future biography. One supposes that Manso would like to believe his book "evokes an era." It does not.

But it does provide in the end an optimistic portrait of the present Mailer, a bold and singular writer ready to work to the end of his days. All the head-butting, establishment-baiting, dope smoking, marital battling, and honest literary toil ends in a Norman Mailer who is self-aware and generous, in his own words, "concerned with how many books I have left to write. It's no longer a question of is one the champ? I'm a writer like other writers, either better or less good than I think I am. But in the meantime I have a life to work at. And how do I want to lead that life in the time remaining to me? In other words, no more stunts."
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Copyright 1985, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Remnick, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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