EXISTENTIAL ERRANDS by Norman Mailer

EXISTENTIAL ERRANDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Maybe Prisoner of Sex revitalized Mailer for detractors as well as admirers, but you don't have to be a feminist to put this book down. Indeed, it needs no down-putting -- it devolves by itself into banality, vacuity and general sludge. It's a collection of Mailer's occasional pieces from the last five-odd years. The subjects range from such prefabricated micro-Hemingway efforts as boxing and a Lorca translation to attempts at revenge or self-justification vis-a-vis the critics, e.g., the claim that New York critics' taste determines what is produced and mutterings about what a fine book the ever-maligned American Dream is. Mailer of course not only ventured into play writing during this period but undertook some film ventures; this book reminds us how fast the "free run of obscenity" lost its shock value, and Mailer's writings on the movies give little evidence of any other kind of value. Despite his relatively straightforward journalistic efforts on the Kennedy assassination and Mark Lane, and the moderate essence of "black power," the final message of the book is about Mailer himself: it invites the conclusion that he's afraid to try sustained, disciplined work. This comes through indelibly in his accounts of movie-making, of the big novel he was going to write in these years, and of his New York mayoral campaign which seems to have lacked tactics, strategy, or any theory beyond the trendiness of local community control. Thus the undertones of envy in his piece on Podhoretz and Making It (probably the most interesting thing in the book) in which he exhibits admiration for Podhoretz' frank sense of purpose and will to success. In contrast to this stands Mailer's own "existentialism" -- not the big-E kind but something close to the philosophy of the traveling salesman who thinks existentialism means God-is-dead-do-what-you-want -- from that vantage point it's hard to generate artistic commitment or even, as in the case of this collection, bellelettristic accomplishment.
Pub Date: April 17th, 1972
ISBN: 0451054229
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1972




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