Paul J. GriffithsApril 30, 2007 - 8:42am0 comments
The Castle in the Forest
Random House, $27.95, 496 pp.
Norman Mailer published his first quasi-novel, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, and his most recent, The Castle in the Forest, earlier this year, very close to his eighty-fourth birthday. In the almost six decades separating those two books he’s published more than thirty others, won two Pulitzer Prizes and one National Book Award, divorced five wives (he’s still married to a sixth), run for mayor of New York City, and directed one of the best so-bad-it’s-good movies of all time, Tough Guys Don’t Dance (if you’ve never seen it, you’ve a dubious delight to look forward to). Mailer has always been at least as much a Broadway production number as a writer: his image, principally one of masculine vitality-Ernest Hemingway without the suicidal impulse, Henry Miller with a better literary pedigree-has long overshadowed his work, and he seems to have wanted it that way.
At his best (The Armies of the Night, Marilyn, The Executioner’s Song), Mailer writes with force and an obsessive flow of energy; and while his favorite tropes and themes aren’t to everyone’s taste (they in¬clude sodomy, excrement, murder, incest, and torture), his choice of subjects and the intensity with which he writes about them have permitted his work to have a deep influence on American perceptions of the twentieth century. He’s written affectingly about World War II, Vietnam, U.S. politics from the 1950s through the ’80s, and about some of the...