Norman Mailer was one of the world’s preeminent journalists, the winner of two Pulitzers and a co-founder of “New Journalism” – a style he shares with the likes of Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson. He’s a giant in the 20th century literary canon. He also tried to stab his wife to death in full view of dozens of horrified witnesses.
On November 19, 1960, Mailer threw a party to announce that he was running for mayor of New York City. In an attempt to set up a dialog between the rich and the poor, he invited all of the city’s most elite citizens, as well as a whole bunch of homeless people. He got a bit upset when, for some reason, most of the rich people canceled. It turns out that it’s not easy to get Rockefellers, Hearsts, du Ponts, or even Trumps to attend a party where the well liquor is Mad Dog 20/20. Purple flavor, of course. We’re talking about high society here.
As the night wore on, Mailer started getting mean drunk. Eventually, his mortified wife, Adele, stepped in to subdue him, and this escalated into a full-scale screaming match, which ended when Mailer pulled out a two-and-a-half-inch pen knife and stabbed her several times in the chest. Hopefully he had some sort of quip about pens and knives at the ready, but honestly, it was probably all rage-screaming at that point.
Adele survived. She told doctors that she’d “fallen on some glass” and stayed with Mailer for another two years. And literary types spent the next forever carefully debating whether or not Mailer’s genius was “super duper great,” or “just regular great.”
The feeling of joy came up in me again the way the lyric of a song might remind a man on the edge of insanity that soon he will be insane again and there is a world there more interesting than his own.
So I continued to write, and as I worked, I learned the taste of a failure over and over again, for the longest individual journey may well be the path from the first creative enthusiasm to the concluded artifact.
The Executioner’s song is a 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Norman Mailer, regarding Gary Gilmore, who was executed in Utah in 1977 for murder. Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, The Executioner’s Song is not a light read, but it is beautifully written and terribly compelling, and definitely worth your time. This book was adapted into a made for TV movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Rosanna Arquette in 1982, which is also absolutely worth a watch.
Shot in the Heart (1995) is a memoir written by Mikal Gilmore, brother of Gary Gilmore. It tells the story of the Gilmore family from Mikal’s perspective, and provides insight into Gary’s beginnings and his life, and of the family he came from. This book was recommended to me by a very good Tumblr friend, and it cut me to the bone. It completely broke my heart. Heavily recommend.
Mary McCarthy led a big life full of sex, books, politics and travel. She traded gossip and philosophy with Hannah Arendt. Nora Ephron wrote a play about her feud with Lillian Hellman. The BBC offered her $1000 to box with Norman Mailer on live television.
I take it for granted that there’s a side of me that loves public action, and there’s another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And I’ve learned to alternate the two as matters develop.