Jack Manning/The New York Times
可以說，諾曼·梅勒無論作為一個男人，還是一位作家，都是美名與罵 名參半，卻很少有模稜兩可的中間立場。他的身份有很多種不同的組合：他是個世界級的酒徒、愛鬧事、好結仇、常將自己神話化，還反對女權主義；同時，他也是 反戰倡導者、市長候選人、《村聲》（The Village Voice，創辦於1955年、紐約格林威治村的文化藝術類周刊，持左翼立場，在知識分子中影響極大——譯註）的創辦人之一；他還擔了「刺妻」的惡名，結 過六次婚，育有九個子女；除此以外，他也是一名拳擊手、演員、電影人、詩人和劇作家；作為新聞工作者和小說家，其對敘事手法的創新與推動影響遠大，他兩度 榮獲普利策獎，是20世紀後半葉最有意思、談資不斷，也最令人生厭的公眾人物之一。
如大多數傳奇人物，梅勒也是「自行修鍊」成正果的——傑弗里·烏爾 夫(Geoffrey Wolff)如是評價。實際上，諾曼·梅勒的鐵杆粉絲團已將他的傳奇打磨得光亮閃耀，並且仍將繼續下去。自1969年以來發表的關於他的傳記、類傳記和回 憶錄不下15部，作者包括崇拜者、文學史專家、幾任妻子和一名情婦。也正是從那時起，圍繞梅勒的研究一發而不可收，此時離2007年梅勒逝去還有四十餘 載。據我粗略統計，專門關於梅勒的記錄和描寫的書有5000頁之多。本月，他的文集《亡命之徒的內心思想》(Mind of an Outlaw)發表於世，其中包括了很多名篇，諸如：《超人逛超市》(Superman Comes to the Supermarket)、他為《Esquire》雜誌撰寫的1960年肯尼迪競選總統的新聞報道，以及最先發表於《異見》(Dissent)雜誌的關於 「認同黑人音樂與文化的白種潮人」的文化反思文章《白種黑人》(The White Negro)等。而更值得注目的，則是J·邁克爾·列儂(J. Michael Lennon)撰寫的洋洋洒洒900頁的全面人物傳記《諾曼·梅勒的雙重生活》(Norman Mailer: A Double Life)。這項浩大的工程與梅勒變幻莫測的一生和寫作題材相得益彰，時間跨越從他二十幾歲到最後幾十載直至去世那一年。列儂筆法流暢，研究鑿實。在這部 巨著中，每個段落不無包含着你前所未聞又相知恨晚的寶貴信息。列儂此書可謂盡言盡慎。雖然身為梅勒的遺稿保管人，對於其人其作的鋒利稜角與多變質地，他卻 未曾打磨，而原貌呈將出來。
對於作家而言，1923年是個好年份：帕迪·查耶夫斯基 (Paddy Chayefsky)、詹姆斯·迪基(James Dickey)、約瑟夫·海勒(Joseph Heller)均誕生於這一年。梅勒也是如此。他成長於紐約城邊緣一個女人們說了算的家庭里。天生聰穎的他16歲即入哈佛大學學習，在那裡，他參加大學寫 作比賽的文章發表於《故事》(Story)雜誌，由此才初嘗了文學成就的樂趣。他貪婪地閱讀， 尤其是海明威(Hemingway)、菲茨傑拉德(Fitzgerald)、多斯·帕索斯(Dos Passos)和亨利·米勒(Henry Miller)——從某個角度而言，他的人生和寫作就成為了這四者的混合。如列儂寫道的，在學校，梅勒喜歡在他的壁爐台上放一瓶杜松子酒，「因為他讀過海 明威就喝這種酒。」
當美國加入第二次世界大戰後，梅勒應招入伍，派往菲律賓。對於熱衷 於文學的年輕人來說，戰鬥與衝突便成為他們一生的故事主題。乘軍艦在太平洋上顛簸，或隨騎兵連在歐洲的戰亂荒蕪中穿行，關於這些體驗的小說開始在他們心中 醞釀。如他的文學偶像一樣，梅勒在戰事結束後來到巴黎，寫成了《裸者與死者》(「The Naked and the Dead」)。此書於1948年面世，與歐文·肖(Irwin Shaw)的《幼獅》(Young Lions)同年出版，對南太平洋上的一支步兵排進行了殘酷露骨的、自然主義的刻畫，其間對士兵性體驗的細緻描寫恐怕讓馬斯特斯和約翰遜(Masters and Johnson)，甚至卡戴珊(Kardashian)家的那幾位也讀之汗顏（馬斯特斯和約翰遜，20世紀後半葉美國著名性學專家搭檔；卡戴珊，美國娛樂 界著名家庭，三個女兒多有性緋聞爆出——譯註）。此書一出即登上暢銷書榜單，並佔據榜位一年多。梅勒時年僅25歲。《泰晤士報》也刊登了以褒獎為主的書 評。這本書「雖算不上偉大的作品，」評論家寫道，「但是它無疑見證了在美國小說家的行列里一位傑出新秀的誕生。」
梅勒一本接一本地出書，但卻很少再經歷過寫《裸者與死者》時那樣的 評論如潮和商業成功，據一些報道稱，那仍是他最暢銷的一本書。儘管如此，他筆耕不輟，題材也包羅萬象，不僅涉及肯尼迪競選，更有關於登月、瑪麗蓮·夢露 (Marilyn Monroe)、李·哈維·奧斯瓦爾德（Lee Harvey Oswald，被認為是刺殺了肯尼迪總統的兇手——譯註）、越戰、性別權力之爭、1968年在芝加哥舉行的民主黨全國大會，以及後來的中央情報局、畢加 索、希特拉、上帝等等方面的選材。
在他的著書取得了不同程度的成功時，梅勒作為公眾人物的影響力正在 吞噬他作為作家的影響力。在女權主義尚未到來的時代里，要是你想完成從美名到罵名的轉身，一種最恐怖（怕是也很有效）的辦法就是用摺疊小刀刺傷自己的妻子 ——他就這麼幹了，那是1960年，受害者是他第二任妻子阿黛爾(Adele)。為了與時俱進，梅勒還變得更加公開自己的政治立場。他是31位高級知識分 子自由派人物之一，這裡面還包括了讓-保羅·薩特(Jean-Paul Sartre)，薩特在《紐約時報》的廣告上簽字支持「公平對待古巴委員會」，此會成員中包括李·哈維·奧斯瓦爾德（梅勒等很多人在奧斯瓦爾德射殺了總統 後，很快從組織中撤出）。他還是越戰的強烈反對者，在1967年在五角大樓前舉行的反戰活動遊行中被捕。
轉年，梅勒發表了《夜幕下的大軍》(The Armies of the Night)，這是他以小說體寫成的關於反戰遊行的紀實性文學作品，還有他記錄1968年民主黨和共和黨大會的《邁阿密和芝加哥之圍》(Miami and the Siege of Chicago)。列儂寫得很文雅，但他內心中的學者風格時而就在字裡行間迸發出來。他在談到梅勒寫作中（特別是《夜幕下的大軍》中）對第一人稱和第三人 稱的糾結時，寫道：「其成就的悖論在於，在將主要人物剖分為「此時的梅勒」和「彼時的梅勒」的敘事中，他能夠將所有的人物組織起來，駕馭好遊行事件的節奏 與特點，透過他自己心智與靈魂的對立面去審視人物。這種有意識的主體分裂，20年來貫持的視角、觀點的游移，是梅勒的妙筆所在，也是其寫作事業中最重要的 審美選擇。」如果你沒完全理解上述這段話，想必很多人也是如此。梅勒的這兩本書在九個月內相繼出版，並被雙雙提名入圍美國「國家圖書獎「的評選。《夜幕下 的大軍》最終獲獎，還一連獲得普利策獎，可謂錦上添花。
梅勒在為《夜幕下的大軍》巡迴簽售期間，收到一封來自「粉絲」、同 是普利策獎得主的劇作家威廉姆·英奇(Willian Inge)的信。英奇在信中告訴梅勒，他在電視上見過梅勒，覺得他儀錶堂堂，可以競選政府官職。列儂提到，梅勒之前就考慮過從政，但認為自己刺傷妻子一事 妨礙了自己的仕途（時代變遷啊，嘆嘆）。1969年，當整個「阿黛爾事件」離得比較久遠之後，梅勒接受了英奇的建議，和朋友、專欄作家吉米·布萊斯林 (Jimmy Breslin)一道，以「立紐約為第51個州」為政綱競選紐約市長。值得這個城市和國家慶幸的是，對手約翰·林賽(John Lindsay)輕鬆取勝。
Michael Evans/The New York Times
關於梅勒的家庭生活方面的描寫，無論是科德角，還是布魯克林高地 （梅勒的兩處舊居所在——譯註），列儂都不厭其煩、面面俱到，連梅勒晨起的漱洗習慣也進行了細緻入微的記錄。我不想在此透露過多，而且又是在適宜家庭訂閱 的報紙上，這麼說吧：梅勒早上那漫長的梳洗儀式是以長時間的關起門來「自摸幾把單人紙牌」作為落幕的，用梅勒的話說，這樣可以「梳理我的心緒」。像所有作 家一樣，梅勒總是錢不夠花，這在某種程度上也是由於支付多位前妻的贍養費用造成的。前妻陣容先是比阿特麗斯(Beatrice)，然後是阿黛爾 (Adele)、珍妮(Jeanne)、貝弗利(Beverly)、卡洛爾(Carol)，最後是諾里斯(Norris)，這還不算那數也數不清的一系列 情人（在列儂書中索引里，涉及「婚外情」處不下56頁）。在彼得·曼索(Peter Manso)的口述傳記《梅勒：他的生活與時代》(「Mailer: His Life and Times」)中，謝利·溫特斯（Shelley Winters，美國20世紀後半葉女演員——譯註）稱，瑪莉蓮·夢露曾將梅勒列在她的「夢中情人」名單里。諾里斯·丘奇(Norris Church)，這位智慧可人、曾與比爾·克林頓拍拖的女人、梅勒臨終時的妻子，在她2010年著的回憶錄《一張馬戲表演的門票》(A Ticket to the Circus)中說他「十分樂得做她這個伊萊莎·杜利多的亨利·希金斯（Eliza Doolittle，Henry Higgins系《窈窕淑女》中的主要人物，教授亨利將賣花女伊萊莎「改造」為上流貴婦——譯註）。」實際上，也是梅勒建議她將原名芭芭拉 (Barbara)改為諾里斯。有一段時間，諾里斯實在受夠了梅勒在外拈花惹草，梅勒的妹妹目睹了諾里斯的暴怒，不解梅勒為何仍然繼續偷腥，她質問他「為 什麼要那樣？」他回答說，因為「日子過得太安逸了」。
梅勒的手指頭逐步離開了時代的脈搏，這個過程以關於「性政治」這個 不能碰的學術大討論告終。1959年，他對女性作者的著書進行了掃蕩式的評判。「冒着結下幾個終生死敵的風險，」他還是慷慨陳詞，「我嗅到女人寫的筆墨 味，總覺得古怪、老套、奇特、小氣、神經兮兮、殘缺不全、追趕時髦、冷淡無情、以俗艷標新立異，猶如塑料模特發出的奇思妙想、即使文筆聰明也半路夭折。」 話至此他仍不罷休，決意要把另一隻手也伸進木頭粉碎機，作為這段評論的結語，他寫道：「一個好的小說家別的都可以不具備，但是不能沒有一對卵。」如此乾脆 的點評，立即招致全美國一半讀者的憎惡。梅勒以為，由於他從出生起就一直生活在女人堆里（一位威嚴的母親、兩個妹妹、六任妻子和五個女兒），所以就可以淌 一淌這「厭女」的渾水而不濕鞋。他說，他成長於一個「擁有很多出色、可敬的女性的家庭中……所以關於女性的言論我暢所欲言慣了，覺得說什麼也無妨，因為她 們知道，我是愛她們的。」
當女權主義成為主流王道之後，梅勒似乎十分樂於大唱反調。為了吸引 公眾眼球，他一再地挑戰大家的接受極限。當他建議女人「應該關在籠子里」時，諾里斯說「你沒聽見他說這話時的語氣。諾曼並不反對男女平等。他只是愛開玩 笑，說些反諷的話。」但同時，梅勒又是那麼不可救藥的自私。在刺傷阿黛爾事件之後，他對一位採訪記者說：「我已經喪失了所有辯解的權力。大家對我的判斷已 經是先入為主的偏見了。現在如果我再去立論，說我們這個時代太暴力了，大家就會說，瞧瞧他自己乾的好事，還說別人呢。我自己毀掉了成為我們這個時代的耶利 米的機會（耶利米，Jeremiah，聖經人物，被稱作「流淚的先知」，以逆耳忠言遭來自己深愛的同胞們的憎惡和迫害。——譯註）。」作為兇手，可以這樣 把自己也擺在受害者的位置上，實屬少見。
如果說梅勒是文學界紛爭中的索尼·利斯頓（Sonny Liston，美國上世紀中期最出色拳擊手之一，後被阿里打敗——譯註），那麼小他兩歲的戈爾·維達爾(Gore Vidal)便是穆罕默德·阿里(Muhammad Ali)。維達爾跟所有人都對過陣，包括杜魯門·卡波特(Truman Capote)、安迪·沃霍爾(Andy Warhol)、安·蘭德(Ayn Rand)，以及最著名的1968年民主黨國家大會上與威廉姆·F·巴克利(William F. Buckley)的爭論（多年前，我在《間諜》(Spy)雜誌工作的時候，雜誌曾稱維達爾好鬥愛打官司，他幾周後打電話給我們，稱如果我們不撤回這個說 法，他將起訴我們。許多年後，在他已開始為《名利場》(Vanity Fair)雜誌撰稿時，我又和他提起這件事，並小心地問他有沒有覺得他當時的反應其實令人啼笑皆非。他說他不覺得）。
在梅勒對維達爾的決戰發生之前，有一次矛盾升級事件，即1971年 二人在《迪克·卡維特脫口秀》(The Dick Cavett Show)上的爭執。在《紐約書評》(The New York Review of Books)的一篇文章中，維達爾說梅勒的《性的囚犯》(Prisoner of Sex)一書讀來活像「三天的月經期」。但這還不是最惹到梅勒的地方，最終激怒他的，是維達爾將他和查爾斯·曼森（Charles Manson，美國上世紀60年代末歌手、詞作家、殺人犯，那個年代精神錯亂、暴力血腥的象徵——譯註）聯繫了起來。這兩位作家在卡維特節目的演員休息室 里相遇，據稱梅勒用頭衝撞了維達爾，事情便由此一發不可收。梅勒之前喝了酒，而且很明顯。他說，維達爾「全然沒有品行或道德底線，甚至也缺乏文化底蘊。」 爭吵中，節目當時的另一位嘉賓珍妮特·弗蘭納(Janet Flanner)說，看到他們在公眾場合吵成這樣，而不是到私下去解決，感到非常驚駭，也聽得十分無趣。這又引發了更大的口水戰。
二人的激戰發生於六年後的一個晚宴上，那是拉里·韋茅斯 (Lally Weymouth)在她72街的公寓里為出版人喬治·韋登菲爾德(George Weidenfeld)舉辦的晚宴。韋茅斯的母親凱·格雷厄姆(Kay Graham)也在（格雷厄姆和韋茅斯一家在美國傳媒界聲名顯赫，格雷厄姆更是《華盛頓郵報》前發行人——譯註）。在場的客人有比爾·佩利(Bill Paley)、傑姬·奧納西斯（Jackie O，前肯尼迪總統夫人——譯註）、皮特·哈米爾(Pete Hamill)、芭芭拉·沃爾特斯(Barbara Walters)、莉莉安·海爾曼(Lillian Hellman)、威廉·斯泰倫(William Styron)、蘇珊·桑塔格(Susan Sontag)、傑里·布朗(Jerry Brown)、薩姆·斯皮格爾(Sam Spiegel)，還有梅勒和維達爾。「我看見戈爾時，」梅勒後來告訴《華盛頓郵報》的一名記者，「我就想用頭撞他，我就撞了。」列儂寫道：「具體發生了 什麼，眾說紛紜，但似乎是梅勒將一杯金湯力潑在了維達爾臉上，然後把杯子扔在他頭上。」梅勒不記得揮了拳頭，但維達爾後來告訴專欄作家麗茲·史密斯 (Liz Smith)，「接着那小拳頭就砸過來了。」韋茅斯急得要崩潰了，「我的天呢，這可壞了，誰快勸勸！」在這個節骨眼上，克雷·費爾克(Clay Felker)攔住她說（酒精也不能減弱他愛看戲的熱情）：「快閉嘴！你的派對就指着這場架添彩呢！」
梅勒就這樣放浪不羈地度過了他的50歲和60歲。他的長篇紀實性小 說《劊子手之歌》(The Executioner』s Song)記述了殺人犯加里·吉爾摩(Gary Gilmore)的生死故事，為他贏得了第二個普利策獎。他十年著成的《古老的夜》(Ancient Evenings)，名列暢銷書榜單。但是，到了80年代，關於美國作家的整個觀念都發生了改變。那種打架、喝酒、玩女人如失控的火車一般的風格，曾定義 了多少「迷失一代」和戰後時期的作家，如今已經時過境遷，被那些體態瘦弱、頭髮稀疏的極簡抽象派作家代替，他們在作家棲息地學成技藝，在大學城教些研究生 課程。梅勒那種轟轟烈烈的活法已成往事。女權主義、同性戀權力和所有的新變化，正在衝擊着梅勒的世界，（按照列儂的說法）他的文學和政治立場失去了支撐。 這位昔日的絕對自由派在晚年一度被推向了右翼。他還創作了《哈洛特的鬼魂》(Harlot』s Ghost)，對「二戰」至1965年期間的中央情報局大唱讚歌，長篇累牘，書厚到可以作門擋。更糟糕的是，他向當時的市長魯道夫·朱利安尼 (Rudolph Giuliani)示好，贊他阻止了「窮人侵犯我們的生活」。
書名「雙重生活」引人發想，只因在驅動美國思想創新的名流中肯將私 生活拋之公眾任其消遣的人，實在寥寥無幾。但其實，外表曝光事小，內心發掘事大。列儂寫道：「對於梅勒而言，每個人心中都住着兩個獨立的主體（而不是一個 二元的主體）是不爭的事實。用他自己的話說，『每個人自我的統一本身就是一場婚姻。』住在他內心的這兩個自我，被一遍遍描述為『聖徒』和『瘋子』的自我， 是由那個『過於友好、焦慮、孩子氣的猶太裔知識分子』聯繫起來的，他『時而放蕩魅人，時而拘謹促狹，在二者之間傻裡傻氣地和解妥協。』」
在離世前幾年的「紐約公共圖書館文獅晚宴」(the New York Public Library』s Literary Lions)上，梅勒與一位紐約頗有名氣的電視主持人隔桌而坐。他欠身詢問諾曼目前是否在寫書。他答說是在寫書。這位主持人又說自己沒什麼時間讀書，請他 可否用一兩句話概括一下書的內容。梅勒一句話也不答，用眼睛盯着他，那眼神——用沃德豪斯(Wodehouse)的話說，可以隔着人群把屋子另一側的蚌撬 開。我曾經斃掉他為《名利場》寫的一篇故事，對這個眼神十分熟悉。
梅勒從來也沒掉以輕心，憑着他的名氣享清閑。直到最後，他的心臟、 腿、肺都基本報廢——連牙齒也為避免感染而被取掉之後，梅勒仍在戰鬥，仍在寫着關於下一個重要題材的重要著作。因急性腎衰竭去世的那年，84歲的他還發表 了關於希特拉幼年時期的著作《林中城堡》(The Castle in the Forest)，和他的收官之作《論上帝》(On God)。
在《雙重生活》中，有這樣一幕關於詹姆斯·瓊斯(James Jones)的感人場景。與梅勒一樣，瓊斯也在戰爭的大熔爐里窺見了自己的文學前路。梅勒曾經評價這位《亂世忠魂》(From Here to Eternity)的作者，他擁有「一位高雅鄉巴佬的智慧」。在80年代末于吉恩·斯泰因(Jean Stein)住所舉辦的一次聚會上，梅勒碰見了詹姆斯的女兒凱莉·瓊斯(Kaylie Jones)，他告訴她：「我很愛你的父親。他是我擁有過的最好的朋友。我生命中的每一天都思念他。」梅勒追憶了與他的最後一次相見，那是二十幾年前的事 了。當時瓊斯正獨自坐在是在伊萊恩餐廳(Elaine』s)的吧台邊，梅勒走進來，邀他到店外赤拳一搏。女人是無法理解這個的，大多數男人估計也無法理 解，拳斗是（用列儂的話說）梅勒「鞏固友情」的方式。瓊斯淡淡地說：「不行，諾曼，我身體不好，心臟也不行。」凱莉說，梅勒輕聲告訴她，「他說得那麼不卑 不亢，聲音里沒有憤怒，只是平述着事實，眼睛裡充滿疲憊。」兩個月後，瓊斯去世了。梅勒至死對那次邀戰都很後悔，覺得那為二人的最後一面相見蒙上了陰雲。 聚會上，梅勒問凱莉，有沒有什麼他可以幫得上她的地方。凱莉說，她正要出一本書。她的母親格洛里亞·瓊斯(Gloria Jones)說，如果他願意幫她女兒宣傳，她願意許身給他。諾里斯就站在附近，聽到這個提議笑出了聲來。梅勒如約幫了凱莉，但是據列儂說，並沒有索取「回 報」。
列儂寫道，梅勒對年輕一代作家固然慷慨有嘉，但他「真正想得到的」 是他在同齡作家中的「根基」。他顯然是得到了。但是這個根基是沙做的還是什麼更穩久的材料，還得由未來的讀者們來回答。梅勒的創作無疑是令人稱嘆的：成千 上萬篇氣勢磅礴、文風清簡的散文、故事；七十年間平均每十年出產一本「《紐約時報》暢銷書」；獎盃歡呼應接不暇。梅勒的書皆是大作，其人越老，其書名氣越 大。但是，儘管這些書都是大作、大思想，但是也最終沒有歸入我們所謂的中上層大眾文化之列。不同於與他同時代的其他作家，比如塞林格 (Salinger)、卡波特(Capote)、斯泰倫(Styron)、羅斯(Roth)、馮內古特(Vonnegut)、凱魯亞克 (Kerouac)、海勒(Heller)等，梅勒並沒有創作出抓住（並能一直抓住）新一代人思想和心靈的一本代表作。他沒有寫出自己的《麥田守望者》 (Catcher in the Rye)，或者《蒂凡尼的早餐》(Breakfast at Tiffany』s)、《蘇菲的抉擇》(Sophie』s Choice)、《波特諾伊的抱怨》(Portnoy』s Complaint)、《第五號屠宰場》(Slaughterhouse-Five)、《在路上》(On the Road)或者是《第22條軍規》(Catch 22)。在將近60年的寫作中，他並沒有創造出像霍莉·戈萊特麗(Holly Golightly)、亞歷山大·波特諾伊(Alexander Portnoy)、迪恩·莫里亞蒂(Dean Moriarty)、約塞連(Yossarian)、米洛·明德賓德(Milo Minderbinder)這樣的著名故事人物，連他的對手戈爾·維達爾筆下也有米拉·布來金里治(Myra Breckinridge)這個代表人物。如果說梅勒筆下有哪個人物尤其有名，那應該算是加里·吉爾摩，這個《劊子手之歌》中的殺人犯主人公。還有他極力 擁護並促成其釋放的殺人犯作家傑克·阿伯特(Jack Abbott)，此人在被釋放後發表了《在野獸的腹中》(In the Belly of the Beast)，然後在紐約的街上刺殺了一個22歲的受害者。安東尼·伯吉斯(Anthony Burgess)在評論曼索1985年出版的口述傳記時說，只要主要人物還活着，那麼其書「也就算是期中報告。作為主要人物，他要麼應該坐着別動，要麼躺 着別動」。28年後，梅勒如苦行僧般走完一生，靜躺下來。列儂的輝煌傳記想必是以後許多人都將要交上來的期末報告中的第一份。本文作者Graydon Carter是《名利場》雜誌長達21年的主編，他編著的《百年名利場：從爵士時代到我們的時代》(Vanity Fair 100 Years: From the Jazz Age to Our Age)最近也剛剛出版。
Fame and Infamy
December 11, 2013
Mailer for mayor: Campaigning in Brooklyn, May 1969.
Jack Manning/The New York Times
It could be said that Norman Mailer was a man and a writer halfway between fame and infamy and yet with little in the way of middle ground. He was, in varying combinations, a world-class drinker, feuder, provocateur, self-mythologizer and anti-feminist. He was a war protester, a mayoral candidate, a co-founder of The Village Voice, as well as a wife stabber, a serial husband (of six wives), and a father (of nine). He was a boxer, an actor, a filmmaker, a poet and a playwright. He was also a journalist and a novelist of enormous and singular narrative inventiveness and thrust, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of the least boring and most tireless and tiresome public figures of the last half of the 20th century.
Like most legends, Mailer’s was, as Geoffrey Wolff called it, a “self-cultivated” one. And indeed, a veritable Norman Mailer cottage industry has burnished the legend and continues to carry it forward. No fewer than 15 biographies, quasi-biographies and remembrances, by admirers, literary historians, wives and a mistress, have been published since 1969, when the torrent of Mailer-centric scholarship began, almost four decades before his death in 2007. My rough calculation puts the total number of book pages already devoted exclusively to Mailer at more than 5,000. This month sees the publication of “Mind of an Outlaw,” a collection of his essays, including such near masterpieces as “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” the dispatch about the 1960 Kennedy campaign he wrote for Esquire, and “The White Negro,” a rumination that first appeared in Dissent, on what some now call “wiggers” — white hipsters who associate with black music and culture. More significantly — and adding another 900 pages to the canon — comes J. Michael Lennon’s sweeping full-scale biography, “Norman Mailer: A Double Life.” It is a mighty undertaking befitting Mailer’s lifetime of protean output, which began in his 20s and continued right through the last decades of his life and up to the year of his death. Lennon is a fluid writer, and he’s done his homework. There’s not a paragraph in this enormous book that doesn’t contain a nugget of something you should have known or wish you had known. Lennon has it all, and he has it down. And despite being his subject’s literary executor, he has not sanded the corners of a career and life, each of which has plenty of texture and lots of sharp edges.
The year 1923 was a good one for writers: Paddy Chayefsky, James Dickey and Joseph Heller were all born that year. As was Mailer. He grew up on the outer fringes of New York City in a household dominated by women. A smart lad, he was shipped off to Harvard at 16, where he got his first taste of literary accomplishment when his entry for a college writing contest was published in Story magazine. He read voraciously, especially Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos and Henry Miller — and, in a way, his life and career became a meld of all four. As Lennon writes, Mailer liked to keep a bottle of gin on his mantel at school, “because he read that Hemingway drank it.”
When America entered the Second World War, Mailer was drafted and sent to the Philippines. To young men of a literary bent, the conflict became the story of a lifetime, and on warships tossing in the Pacific or on troop caravans crossing the devastation of Europe, books about what they had just experienced began to germinate. Like his literary idols, Mailer went to Paris after hostilities had ended, and finished “The Naked and the Dead.” The book, which came out in 1948, the same year as Irwin Shaw’s “Young Lions,” is a brutal, naturalistic depiction of a single platoon in the South Pacific, with enough details about the sex lives of G.I.’s to bring a blush to the cheeks of not only Masters and Johnson, but a Kardashian or two. It landed on the best-seller list and stayed there for more than a year. Mailer was just 25. The Times gave it a largely favorable review. It’s “not a great book,” the critic said, “but indisputably it bears witness to a new and significant talent among American novelists.”
Mailer published continuously, but only rarely did he get to bathe in the pool of critical and commercial approval he experienced with “The Naked and the Dead,” which some reports say is still his best-selling book. He wrote constantly, though, and with great catholic expanse, not only about the Kennedy campaign but also about moon shots, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, the war in Vietnam, the battle of the sexes, the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and, later, the C.I.A., Picasso, Hitler and God.
As his books achieved varying levels of success, Mailer the public figure began to eclipse Mailer the writer. Back in those pre-feminist-era days, one of the more horrific, if effective, ways of making the transition from fame to infamy was to stab your spouse with a penknife — as he did to his second wife, Adele, in 1960. In keeping with the times, Mailer also became more overtly political. He was one of 31 high-minded liberals, including Jean-Paul Sartre, who signed an ad in The New York Times supporting the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which counted among its members Lee Harvey Oswald. (Mailer and many others quickly resigned from the group when Oswald shot and killed the president.) He was a vigorous opponent of the war in Vietnam and in 1967 was arrested during the movement’s march on the Pentagon.
The next year Mailer published both “The Armies of the Night,” his novelistic work of nonfiction about the march, and “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” his reported novel about the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions. Lennon writes gracefully, but every once in a while the academic in him bursts forward. In his description of Mailer’s constant struggle with voice — first person, third person — particularly in “The Armies of the Night,” he writes: “The paradox of his achievement is that in a narrative that sundered the protagonist into Mailer-now and Mailer-then, he was able to unite all the actors, currents and rich particularities of the march, seeing them through the oppositions of his psyche. This division of self by fiat, the resolution of 20 years of point-of-view uncertainties, was a masterstroke and the most significant aesthetic decision of Mailer’s career.” If you don’t fully comprehend that passage, you’re not alone. The two books came out nine months apart, and both were nominated for the National Book Award. “The Armies of the Night” won — and it took home a Pulitzer to boot.
Mailer was on a book tour for “The Armies of the Night” when he received a fan letter from William Inge, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Inge told Mailer he’d seen him on television and thought he was good-looking enough to run for office. Lennon says Mailer had considered a political career before, but thought the wife-stabbing incident might have hampered his chances. (How times have changed.) With the whole Adele business in the more distant past, in 1969, Mailer took Inge up on his suggestion, and with his pal, the columnist Jimmy Breslin, ran for mayor on the general platform of New York becoming the 51st state. Fortunately for the city and the nation, John Lindsay won that one handily.
Norman Mailer in 1969.
Michael Evans/The New York Times
Lennon is tireless on the domestic aspects of Mailer’s life, both on Cape Cod and in Brooklyn Heights. He goes into considerable detail with regard to Mailer’s morning toiletry habits. I don’t want to give away too much here, and this is a family newspaper, but it’s enough to say that the morning ritual culminates with a long session behind closed doors and a few hands of solitaire, to, as Mailer puts it, “comb my mind.” Like all writers, Mailer was constantly short of funds. In part, this was due to the oversupply of ex-wives. There was Beatrice, then Adele, then Jeanne, then Beverly, then Carol and finally Norris. That’s not counting the serial encounters with dozens upon dozens of mistresses. (“Infidelities of” account for no fewer than 56 page mentions in Lennon’s index.) In Peter Manso’s oral biography, “Mailer: His Life and Times,” Shelley Winters claims that Marilyn Monroe had Mailer’s name on her list of “fantasy lovers.” Norris Church, a wise, cool drink of water who had once dated Bill Clinton and who was Mailer’s wife at the time of his death, said in her 2010 memoir, “A Ticket to the Circus,” that he “had a great time playing Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle.” Indeed, it was Mailer who suggested that she change her name from Barbara to Norris. At one point she became fed up with his constant womanizing. Mailer’s sister, who witnessed Norris’s fury, wondered why he continued to play around. “ ‘Why did you do it?’ she asked. Because, he replied, ‘life was getting too safe.’ ”
When Mailer’s finger left the pulse of the zeitgeist — which it did with some regularity — it more often than not settled on the third rail of intellectual discourse: sexual politics. In 1959 he delivered this sweeping assessment of books written by women: “At the risk of making a dozen devoted enemies for life,” he said with majestic understatement, “the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maqueillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn.” He wasn’t done. Sticking his other hand into the wood chipper, he ended by saying that “a good novelist can do without everything but the remnant of his balls.” And with this brisk appraisal came the enmity of half the American reading public. Mailer believed that because he was surrounded by women from birth — a commanding mother and two sisters, six wives and five daughters — he could get away with his dips into misogyny. He grew up, he said, in a “family with a lot of wonderful, adoring women. . . . I took it for granted that I could say anything I wanted about women because they knew I loved them.”
As feminism became the law of the land, Mailer seemed to relish his outlaw status. As with much of his public baiting, he pushed boundaries largely for effect. When he suggested that women “should be kept in cages,” Norris said, “you couldn’t see the twinkle in his eye. . . . Norman was not against equal rights. He just liked to be funny and ironic.” At the same time, Mailer could be hopelessly self-involved. After the stabbing incident with Adele, he told an interviewer: “I lost any central purchase I had on the right to say what is happening. I’m parti pris. Now when I argue the times are violent, they can say, well, look what he did. I destroyed forever the possibility of being the Jeremiah of our time.” It’s a rare stabber who can play equal victim to the person stabbed.
If Mailer was the Sonny Liston of the literary feud, then Gore Vidal, two years his junior, was the Muhammad Ali. Vidal fought with everyone, including Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Ayn Rand and, most famously, William F. Buckley at the Democratic convention in 1968. (Years ago, when I was at Spy magazine, we said that Vidal was highly litigious. He called me a few weeks after publication to say that if we didn’t retract the statement, he’d sue. Years later, after he began writing for Vanity Fair, I reminded him of the incident, and gently asked if he saw the irony in his threat. He said he did not.)
The walk-up to the main event in the Mailer vs. Vidal rivalry began in 1971 when the two men took after each other on “The Dick Cavett Show.” In a piece in The New York Review of Books, Vidal had said that Mailer’s “Prisoner of Sex” read like “three days of menstrual flow.” That wasn’t what angered Mailer though; what really got his goat was that Vidal had linked him to Charles Manson. When the two authors met in the Cavett show greenroom, Mailer reportedly head-butted Vidal, and things just went downhill from there. Mailer had been drinking, and it showed. He said that Vidal was “absolutely without character or moral foundation or even intellectual substance.” At one point, Janet Flanner, who was the third guest, said how surprised she was they were doing this in public rather than in private, and that she was bored with the conversation. This brought down the house.
The main event itself occurred six years later at a dinner party Lally Weymouth had at her East 72nd Street apartment in honor of the publisher George Weidenfeld. Weymouth’s mother, Kay Graham, was there. So were Bill Paley, Jackie O, Pete Hamill, Barbara Walters, Lillian Hellman, William Styron, Susan Sontag, Jerry Brown, Sam Spiegel — and Mailer and Vidal. “When I saw Gore,” Mailer later told a reporter for The Washington Post, “I just felt like butting him in the head, so I did.” As Lennon writes, “Accounts vary, but it seems that Mailer threw a gin and tonic in Vidal’s face and bounced the glass off his head.” Mailer didn’t recall throwing a punch, but Vidal later told the columnist Liz Smith, “Then came the tiny fist!” Weymouth began to melt with anxiety. “God, this is awful; somebody do something!” At this juncture, Clay Felker, whose nose for theater could not be dimmed by alcohol, turned to her and said, “Shut up; this fight is making your party.”
Mailer was constantly swinging for the fences, well into his late 50s and 60s. “The Executioner’s Song,” his reported but novelized saga of the life and death of the killer Gary Gilmore, won him his second Pulitzer Prize. He spent a decade working on “Ancient Evenings,” which became a best seller. But by the mid-’80s the whole idea of what the American writer should be had changed. The brawling, boozing, womanizing train wreck that had characterized so many of the Lost Generation and postwar writers had gone out of style, replaced by weedy, thin-haired minimalists who had learned their craft at writers’ colonies and lived in college towns teaching in master’s programs. Mailer’s bravura brand of life consumption was passé. What with feminism, gay rights and all the other incursions into the world Mailer wanted to surround himself with, Lennon says he lost his intellectual and political footing. The onetime liberal firebrand even drifted to the right in his later years. He wrote “Harlot’s Ghost,” a Pharaonic doorstop of admiration for the C.I.A. from the end of World War II to 1965. Worse, he cozied up to then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for stopping “this sense of the poor encroaching on us.”
As he moved into his later years, Mailer began to prefer the bourgeois comforts of home to the literary arena. To his kids, he became, says Lennon, “the gentle, accessible dad” they had wanted in their childhoods. He loved family dinners at the house in Brooklyn Heights, centered at the dining-room table that even during meals was piled high with mail, manuscripts, books, periodicals and newspapers.
The title, “A Double Life,” is a curious one, inasmuch as few members of the collective American creative engine have put so much of their private life out there for public consumption. But it goes to something more within than without. Lennon writes: “For Mailer it was incontestable that two people — not two halves of one — lived inside every human. As he put it: ‘Every man is a marriage within himself.’ The two people inhabiting him, referred to over and over as the saint and the psychopath, are linked by ‘the apparently silly compromise of an overfriendly anxious boyish Jewish intellectual, seductive and inhibited by turns.’ ”
At the New York Public Library’s Literary Lions dinner a few years before he died, Mailer was seated across from a local television anchor, something of a legend himself. The man leaned over the table and asked Norman if he was working on a book. He said he was. The anchor then said he didn’t have much time to read and so perhaps he could give him a one- or two-sentence summary of what it was about. Mailer didn’t say a word, but gave him a look that, as Wodehouse would say, could have opened a clam across a crowded room. Having once killed a story he wrote for Vanity Fair, I was familiar with the look.
Mailer never coasted, and he never sat back and let his fame do the work. Right up to the end, when his heart, his legs and his lungs had basically given up — he even had his teeth removed to avoid infection — Mailer remained in the game, always working on the next big book on the next big subject. The year he died, at 84 of acute renal failure, he published both “The Castle in the Forest,” about Hitler’s early childhood, and “On God,” his final book.
There is a touching scene in “A Double Life” involving James Jones, who, like Mailer, saw his literary future forged in the caldron of war. As Mailer once said of the writer of “From Here to Eternity,” he had “the wisdom of an elegant redneck.” At a party at Jean Stein’s place in the late ’80s, Mailer bumped into Kaylie Jones, the author’s daughter. He told her: “I loved your father. He was the best friend I ever had, and I’ve missed him every day of my life.” Mailer recounted his last meeting with him some 20 years earlier. Jones was sitting alone at the bar at Elaine’s. Mailer came in and challenged him to step outside for a fistfight. Women won’t understand this, nor will most men, but fisticuffs were, says Lennon, Mailer’s way of “cementing a friendship.” Jones said simply: “I can’t, Norman, I’m sick. I’ve got a bum heart.” According to Kaylie, Mailer whispered: “There was no bravado, no self-pity, no anger in his words. Just a fact, and the total exhaustion in his eyes.” Jones died two months later. To the end of his life, Mailer regretted the challenge and the way it overshadowed his last moments with his friend. At the party, Mailer asked Kaylie if there was anything he could do for her. She said she had a novel coming out. Her mother, Gloria Jones, said she would perform a popular sex act on him if he gave her daughter a blurb. Norris was standing nearby and laughed at the offer; Mailer delivered on the quote he promised, but according to Lennon, passed on the quid pro quo.
As generous as he could be to younger writers, he “wanted his own pedestal” among his contemporaries, Lennon writes. And he certainly got one. But whether it’s made of sand or something more lasting is a question to be answered only by future generations. Mailer’s output was nothing if not admirable: tens of thousands of pages of thrusting, lapidary prose, both fiction and nonfiction; a New York Times best seller in each of seven consecutive decades; the myriad trophies and acclamations. Mailer’s books were big — and they got bigger as he got older. But as much as they were filled with big writing and big thoughts, they never made it into the lasting vessel of what we might call upper-middlebrow popular culture. Unlike his contemporaries Salinger, Capote, Styron, Roth, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Heller and others, he produced no single volume that captured and continues to capture the hearts and minds of successive generations. He had no “Catcher in the Rye,” no “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” no “Sophie’s Choice,” no “Portnoy’s Complaint,” no “Slaughterhouse-Five,” no “On the Road,” no “Catch-22.” In almost 60 years of writing, he created no Holden Caulfield, no Holly Golightly, no Alexander Portnoy, no Dean Moriarty, no Yossarian or Milo Minderbinder. Even his old sparring partner Gore Vidal had Myra Breckinridge. If Mailer is associated with any characters in particular, they are more likely to be Gary Gilmore, the convicted murderer and central figure in “The Executioner’s Song,” and Jack Abbott, the killer he championed and helped free, and who, after publishing “In the Belly of the Beast,” went out and stabbed to death a 22-year-old on a New York street. In his review of Manso’s 1985 oral biography, Anthony Burgess said that inasmuch as the subject was still alive, the book was “no more than a kind of interim report. The subject of a life should sit still, or lie still.” Twenty-eight years on, Mailer, who moved through life like a dervish, is now lying still. Lennon’s glorious biography is the first of what one can only assume will be many final reports to come.Graydon Carter has been the editor of Vanity Fair for 21 years. He is also the editor of “Vanity Fair 100 Years: From the Jazz Age to Our Age,” out this month.
その後は進歩的自由主義者を自任し、ベトナム反戦デモに参加。その体験を歴史的視点に重ねて描いた「夜の軍隊」（６８年）はノンフィク ション小説として高い評価を受け、ピュリツァー賞を受賞した。ニューヨーク市長選に立候補して落選するなど、社会的活動にも積極的にかかわりながら、時事 的な小説を書き続けた。
その後は進歩的自由主義者を自任し、ベトナム反戦デモに参加。その体験を歴史的視点に重ねて描いた「夜の軍隊」（６８年）はノンフィク ション小説として高い評価を受け、ピュリツァー賞を受賞した。ニューヨーク市長選に立候補して落選するなど、社会的活動にも積極的にかかわりながら、時事 的な小説を書き続けた。
Charley Gallay/Getty Images
His big ears, barrel chest, striking blue eyes and helmet of seemingly electrified hair — jet black at first and ultimately snow white — made him instantly recognizable, a celebrity long before most authors were lured out into the limelight.