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Sour Plums

John Lanchester, 26 October 1989

The Letters of John Cheever 
edited by Benjamin Cheever.
Cape, 397 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 224 02689 5
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Mary McCarthy 
by Carol Gelderman.
Sidgwick, 430 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 283 99797 4
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The company she keeps 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 246 pp., £4.50, October 1989, 0 297 79649 6
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... as a promiscuously bisexual alcoholic. One memorable scene had John Updike, a friend and rival – Norman Mailer called Cheever and him ‘the Old Pretender and the Young Pretender of the New Yorker’ – ringing the doorbell and being answered by Cheever, bombed out of his mind and stark naked. Home before Dark struck some people as devotedly ...

Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton, 22 October 1992

The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 759 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 571 15197 3
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... There is a story that when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming ‘Hi, Norman!’ in the Index, next to Mailer’s name. A similar tactic might happily have been ventured by the publishers of Philip Larkin’s Letters: the book’s back pages are going to be well-thumbed ...

Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen: The Weiner Trilogy, 29 August 2013

... In 1969 Norman Mailer ran for mayor of New York. He called for the city’s secession from the State of New York to become the 51st state; a ban on private cars in Manhattan; free public bicycles; devolution of powers over policing, education, housing and welfare to neighbourhood authorities; a casino on Coney Island or Roosevelt Island to generate tax revenue; and something called ‘Sweet Sundays’, one day each month on which all mechanical transportation, including lifts, would be banned ...

At the Hayward

Freddie Mason: Matthew​ Barney, 17 June 2021

... was not only full of hand jobs, but chose as its ‘host body’ (in Barney vernacular) a novel by Norman Mailer. ‘Crude thoughts and fierce forces are my state,’ as Mailer put it. Redoubt (until 25 July) is as vast in scale as its predecessors, and just as extravagant, but it’s a more contemplative and more ...

Mailer’s Psychopath

Christopher Ricks, 6 March 1980

The Executioner’s Song 
by Norman Mailer.
Hutchinson, 1056 pp., £8.85, November 1979, 0 09 139540 2
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... my hair. You need it worse than I do.’ Thy need, or necessity or whatever, is greater than mine. Norman Mailer’s book about Gilmore is a work of genius in its range, depth and restraint. It has speed, which Gilmore had, and patience, which he had not. It has lucidity, even when dealing with legal entanglements. It has forbearance, even when witnessing ...

On the imagining of conspiracy

Christopher Hitchens, 7 November 1991

Harlot’s Ghost 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 1122 pp., £15.99, October 1991, 0 7181 2934 2
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A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs 
by Theodore Draper.
Hill and Wang, 690 pp., $27.95, June 1991, 0 8090 9613 7
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... Frank Sinatra raised money for the Reagans and acted as at least a confidante to the First Lady. Norman Podhoretz’s son-in-law Elliott Abrams, while working as Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State, dunned the Sultan of Brunei for a $10 million backhander to the Contras and then lost the money in a Swiss computer error. Ronald Reagan sent three envoys ...

Rectum

Christopher Ricks, 18 October 1984

Tough guys don’t dance 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 231 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7181 2454 5
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... of marijuana remained.’ This has its affinities not only with the world of a Chandler (which Mailer burns at both ends), but also with Romantic Gothic. The inhumed human head, the herb: Isabella, or the Pot of Pot. Some Keatsian byplay is kept up by the heroine’s being called Madeleine (almost right); and Madeleine Falco is an Italian not a Maltese ...

The Vanishing Brothel

Linda Nochlin, 6 March 1997

A Life of Picasso. Vol. II: 1907-1917 
by John Richardson and Marilyn McCully.
Cape, 500 pp., £30, November 1996, 0 224 03120 1
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Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man 
by Norman Mailer.
Little, Brown, 398 pp., £25, November 1996, 0 316 88173 2
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Picasso and the Spanish Tradition 
edited by Jonathan Brown.
Yale, 208 pp., £30, November 1996, 0 300 06475 6
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... to a relatively short but significant portion of the artist’s life and achievement. This is what Norman Mailer does in his Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man. This ‘interpretive biography’ is valuable mainly as a source of some excellent reproductions. Completely dependent on previously published material, purple in its prose, slovenly in its ...

A Little Bit of Showing Off

Adam Phillips: Isherwood’s 1960s, 6 January 2011

The Sixties: Diaries 1960-69 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 756 pp., £30, November 2010, 978 0 7011 6940 4
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... things to a minimum, to record only what actually happened. So when he goes to a party given by Norman Mailer it isn’t Mailer we hear about, or anyone else: ‘Don and I went to a small loud smoky party Norman Mailer was giving at the Ritz. By this time, I was drunk.’ He ...

President Gore

Inigo Thomas: Gore Vidal, 10 May 2007

Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964-2006 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 278 pp., £17.99, November 2006, 0 316 02727 8
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... proof for Vidal that embellishment was what Capote was best at. Nor was he tremendously happy when Norman Mailer published The Naked and the Dead. He caught up, and in the seven years after 1945 wrote seven novels. He wasn’t satisfied with the first few. The one he likes least, In a Yellow Wood (1947), was written when he was briefly an editor at a New ...

Dostoevsky’s America

Karl Miller, 3 September 1981

In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison 
by Jack Henry Abbott.
Random House, 166 pp., $11.95, June 1981, 0 394 51858 6
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... In 1979 there appeared Norman Mailer’s long book The Executioner’s Song – a thousand paperback pages, as it subsequently became, on the strange case of Gary Gilmore, the murderer who insisted on being put to death, insisted that the state keep its word.* In March of the following year, in the London Review of Books, the book was examined at length by Christopher Ricks, whose piece was reprinted – at Mailer’s suggestion, or so I was told at the time – in the form of an advertisement in the New York Review of Books ...

Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen: Snotty American Brat, 9 May 2013

... an old friend said to me: ‘You seem more reticent now. Is that a British thing?’ I read two Norman Mailer books on the plane back home – I mean, to London – and the problem seemed to go away. But I’ll never get over my first experience of England. I was waiting at Heathrow to have my passport stamped. I was 11 years old and had a nervous ...

Diary

Jay McInerney: The Great American Novelists, 23 April 1987

... where the Bible and The Joy of Cooking constituted the library. As a boy, I became acquainted with Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal and Truman Capote as talk-show guests. The TV screen was their boxing-ring. Literally so, on occasion, for Mailer, who had studied his Hemingway. Vidal was the sophisticate ...

Diary

Inigo Thomas: New York Megacity, 16 August 2007

... it is at present.’ Few wrote about New York as a city close to extinction as dramatically as Norman Mailer. Appalled by the decay, violence, apathy and chaos of New York in the late 1960s, Mailer decided to run for mayor in 1969, the year he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night. Much of what ...

The Mantle of Jehovah

Francis Spufford, 25 June 1987

Sugar 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 7011 3169 1
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... seem silly. You could, of course, draw a contrast simply in terms of range of Bad Moments covered: Norman Mailer has preferred to steer clear of the peculiar pains of childbirth, and Andrea Dworkin has chosen not to dwell on the distinctive horror an uneasy Christmas dinner can become, while Byatt can and has handled both as elements in her continuing ...

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