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 are 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.
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. His activities and sexual prowess never ceased, at the expense of others. But, more importantly at the expense of himself.
He 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 up to self-gratification were forms of power over others.
Mailer seems to have used some of 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.
He involved himself in politics, was often seen as radical, viewed other authors as not being the great 20th century writer, and often fluctuated from one subject to another as sources for writing. He procrastinated, and some of his books took years to be finalized and published. He was often perceived as cowing to the public, as far as story line, through his sometimes less than desirable book sales. He seems, in my opinion, to be a man who wanted to be labeled as THE greatest writer of the century, yet his output was often the reverse of his aspiration. Time will tell whether he was.
He married six times. Once he had a child/children from his wives, the luster seemed to wear off, and he sought other alternatives. His infidelities were baffling, and his sister was once known to have asked him why he sought this course of action. In his mind it was a safety net. Go figure.
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 might be a long book, yet within the pages, nothing is left for us to wonder regarding the context of his life. This is the way he wanted it, and this is what the author has given the reader.