The Time of Our Time Essay - Critical Essays

Norman Mailer

The Time of Our Time

The usual format for such an omnibus collection as THE TIME OF OUR TIME would be chronological. Norman Mailer, however, recognizing the ever-changing character of America through five decades, places each piece under one of some sixty headings in accordance with the year it refers to rather than the year it was written. Thus, under the Cold War, for example, he encompasses twenty-five years, 1933-58, with excerpts in order of their reference to that long stalemate, in HARLOT’S GHOST (1991) and THE DEER PARK (1955).

It was in the still-seething struggle between literature and journalism that Norman Mailer, with such narrower-gauge writers such as Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe, found his metier. As Mailer himself confesses in these pages, his waking to overnight fame at twenty-five with THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1948) cut him off from his past and moved him from observer to center stage. Yet he could win a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 and 1980, respectfully, for THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT: HISTORY AS A NOVEL, THE NOVEL AS HISTORY (1968), his ego’s direct filtering of the anti-Vietnam War march on the Pentagon, and THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG (1979) in which he effaces his own voice for that of the homicidal ex-convict Gary Gilmore.

Mailer’s early prose model and lasting paradigm for the persona he sought to create was Ernest Hemingway. All of the master showman’s myths—from Don Ernesto and the bull fights to the great white hunter were appropriated, in degree if not in kind, by his Brooklyn-reared, Harvard-educated disciple. In the end, as these 1300 pages show, Norman Mailer remains his own most magnetic creation.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXIX, October 3, 1998, p. 26.

The Economist. CCCXLVII, September 12, 1998, p. S4.

Library Journal. CXXIII, April 15, 1998, p. 80.

National Review. L, June 22, 1998, p. 56.

New York. XXXI, May 18, 1998, p. 53.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, October 22, 1998, p. 27.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, May 10, 1998, p. 16.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 16, 1998, p. 6.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, May 24, 1998, p. 1.