The Last Party

Even for readers well acquainted with Norman Mailer’s life and work, this memoir should prove a shocker. Adele Mailer does not spare herself—recounting an alcoholic life that destroyed her own work as a painter. A raging, restless Mailer enveloped her days, and she was an all too willing victim. Her damning judgement is that both she and Mailer destroyed their lives.

Although THE LAST PARTY: SCENES FROM MY LIFE WITH NORMAN MAILER can be read as a vindictive exercise, it represents a far more troubling journey into a talented writer’s life. Norman Mailer is presented as a genius who is terrified that he will never match the success of his first novel. Indeed, many successful first novelists have failed to produce second works—or have seen their later work rejected by critics. Other first novelists of Mailer’s generation turned suicidal. Mailer, on the other hand, turned his aggressions outward—brawling in bars, in the streets, and at parties, seemingly challenging every comer.

Having the inside track on her husband’s vulnerable personality, Adele Mailer made matters worse—alternating between compassion and contempt, accusing her husband of latent homosexuality and daring him to act out the outlaw mentality he touted in endless monologues. The climax of this tortured marriage came when Mailer stabbed his wife twice with a dirty pen knife and then kicked her, telling his party guests to leave her alone and let the bitch die.

Adele Mailer suggests Mailer has never confronted the evil inside him. She attempts no analysis of his work, but it is hard not to conclude after reading her troubling account that had Mailer confronted his own fears more honestly, he might actually have produced greater work.