OF A FIRE ON THE MOON by Norman Mailer

OF A FIRE ON THE MOON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Mailer accepts a big assignment to the American mainstream and finds himself at a loss. Emotionally and politically vacant after a fruitless mayoral campaign, his fourth marriage in decline, as he explains, he is obliged to write up the 1969 moon shot from its Houston NASA base, where he lacks opportunity for the ego interaction and participatory observation which has fueled him in the past. He tries to make up for these disabilities by playing with negations, familiar ones: the missing lunar poetry and misfired drama of science ("the real explorations were not made," e.g. "what puncture might mean in space") and of course the anticlimax of it all, lacking "some joy, some outrageous sense of adventure. . . . " Compensatory streaks of magic, death, astrology and devils are conjured up, and Mailer's confrontation as delegate from the realm of raucous sensibility with the anaemic rigors of aerospace Waspdom is played to the hilt. Even in his depressed state Mailer is too intelligent and too self-intrusive to simply camp it up. But instead of tire mock epic one might expect, he produces epic self-parody as he embroiders commonplace formulations of the significance of Apollo 11: "men . . . would certainly destroy themselves if they did not have a game of gargantuan dimensions for diversion. . . a spend-spree of resources, a sublimation, yes, the very word, a sublimation of aggressive and intolerably inhuman desires, . . ." and so forth. These musings are interspersed with reams of very straight technical description (lunar module construction, computer overload, the impossibility of using a real rendezvous radar in the simulator), plus conscientious physiognomies of the astronauts, as if Mailer in the absence of his daimon endeavored to supply at least a big book for his towering (if less, he says, than the fabled $1 million) fee. The strains show in his style: dribs of forced bawdiness, drabs of mock-Faulkner writtenness, a regrettably perseverant third-person self-reference as "Aquarius," and a staggering number of "not unlike"s, "little more than"s, "all but"s and "nearly"s. It's a factitious book and Mailer seems to know it. An excerpt appeared in Life magazine.
Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1970
ISBN: 0330026100
Page count: 429pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1970




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