A Biography
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 Literary biography of Mailer by the well-received author of Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn (1990) and Lillian Hellman (1988). Rollyson (Art History and Literature/Baruch) firmly engages the reader in a swift life of Mailer as if from 30 years hence rather than in the ``now'' vein of earlier biographies by Hilary Mills and Peter Manso. A touchstone event in Mailer's life took place in 1954 when Mailer's friend, editor John Maloney, stabbed his mistress in Greenwich Village, leaving Mailer aswim in Dostoevskian thought and envying Maloney: ``God, I wish I had the courage to stab a woman like that. That was a really gutsy act.'' What he envied, according to Rollyson, was the rebel act against received morality in which ``the shits are killing us''; when he later did stab his wife Adele, he found it morally indefensible. An oddly charming Brooklyn prodigy, Mailer went through childhood and early youth in a terribly professional way (building elaborate model planes), entered Harvard as a skinny little runt of 16, took up engineering, then was bitten by the James T. Farrell bug and began methodically engineering the short story and novel. In the army, he baldly interviewed troops for his future great war novel and, as at Harvard, tried to define himself against a larger entity--as he did in Ancient Evenings and is still doing in his current novel, Harlot's Ghost (see above). Mailer's life is all highlights, some of them abysmal, as with his abortive run for mayor of New York and later the Jack Abbott fiasco. On a literary level, Rollyson's best pages tie Mailer privately into the themes of Ancient Evenings, though his remark that Mailer hasn't had a major success since The Executioner's Song and at this late date may be past producing another triumph is unjust regarding both Ancient Evenings and Harlot's Ghost, which some already see as the high-water marks of Mailer's career. Mailer bounding larger than life--though the last word will be his in his long-promised autobiography, when and if.... (Eight pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 1-55778-193-1
Page count: 358pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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