Geoff Dyer at Threepenny Review:
Mailer starts with the news of Hemingway’s death; we’ll start with Ezra Pound’s claim, in ABC of Reading, that literature “is news that STAYS news.” The appeal of having one of America’s best-known writers cover the biggest news story of the decade—probably of the century, conceivably of all time—was obvious, and Mailer was a natural fit. Back then a lot of people were quoting the opinion that he was the best journalist in America. One of those people was Mailer himself, who took umbrage at praise that tacitly downgraded his achievements as a novelist. This gets aired very early on in a book in which, sooner or later, most things get aired. The irony is that Mailer “knew he was not even a good journalist.” Unless, that is, he could succeed in redefining and enlarging journalism to cover pretty much everything, including the writing of the book in which the attempt would be made. Imagine Laurence Sterne with a huge subject, a big advance, and a looming deadline and you have some sense of the conflicting pressures at work on Of A Fire on the Moon (the original American title).
The deadline needs emphasizing. Other writers had plenty to say about the moon landing—everyone had something to say about it—but few would have had the chops to bang out 115,000 words for publication in three issues of Life magazine, the first tranche of which, Mailer groans, was due less than three weeks after the astronauts splashed down in the Pacific.