Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Norman Mailer

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45783-6
Publisher: Random House

One of the most curious products of Mailer's perpetually surprising career, this gracefully written short novel chronicles the life of Jesus, as told by Himself long after his crucifixion and assumption into heaven. Making continual references to the four traditional gospels (whose authors are gently chided for their inaccuracies and exaggerations), Mailer's Jesus offers a generally plainspoken and sometimes plodding account of his youth and apprenticeship in Nazareth, his acceptance of the burden with which the voice of God charges him, his ministry and miracles, encounters with the Pharisees and conviction for blasphemy, and his death at Golgotha. There's real tension, and little glints of inventive power, in such episodes as Jesus's temptation by a suave Satan, and his exorcism of the giant Legion and destruction of the Gadarene swine. But many other passages (most flagrantly, the Sermon on the Mount) amount to no more than flat paraphrase. Occasional flashes of Mailer's pugnacious intellectual gamesmanship surge through in his characterization of a Jesus who devoutly recalls and recites the wisdom of the Old Testament (in one arresting sequence, his rescue of the woman taken in adultery is followed by his memory of the most sensual verses in the "Song of Solomon"), and in random vivid metaphor ("I could feel the love of God. . . like an animal of heavenly beauty. Its eyes glowed in my heart"). Yet the text is marred by anachronistic lapses in tone, and one waits in vain for fuller development of the God-vs.-Devil dialectic that elsewhere dominates Mailer's fiction (though it must be said that this novel's God explains Himself rather more than the biblical one ever did). Only Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate emerge as even perfunctorily characterized individuals; everyone and everything else is subordinated to the narrator's exploration of his mission and his nature. It's lucid, competent, to all appearances sincere--and thoroughly unexceptional.