Selected Letters of Norman Mailer: a thrilling and revealing collection

Norman-Mailer-010Alexis Forss at The Guardian:

Seven years have passed since the death of Norman Mailer, and a campaign is being waged in his name on several fronts. The publication late last year of J Michael Lennon’s authorised biography asked us to contemplate what its title referred to as a double life. A series of Random House reissues shifts attention to the essays and novels. With the release of the selected letters the most congenial approach to Mailer is illuminated: one in which the works and days are understood as marching, like his “armies of the night”, in lockstep. If John Updike’s larger body of work somehow seems a less of a vertiginous challenge than Mailer’s 44 books, it is because Updike’s chief legacy is his style: the profusion of opiate sentences that delivers us hit after euphoric hit. Mailer bequeathed us no style. What he wanted to do was to save our souls, and that was a battle to be fought in a variety of guises: General Marijuana, Aquarius, the Prisoner, and, of course, the Great Illeist – someone who refers to themselves in the third person – Norman Mailer himself. Selected Letters of Norman Mailergrants us access to the dressing room.

Lennon’s role as custodian of Mailer’s literary estate may seem redundant: after all, acting as his own curator was part of Mailer’s addiction to self‑dramatisation. Commencing with the taming and recontextualisation of the juvenilia and marginalia in 1959’s Advertisements for Myself, he was determined to frame his own works and set the parameters within which they were to be considered. However, his executor’s pruning proves indispensable: having given himself over to the fanatical labour of making a selection from more than 45,000 letters, Lennon presents us with 716 key missives, dating from 1940 to Mailer’s death in 2007.

more here.