NEW YORK: Norman Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country’s literary conscience and provocateur with such books as The Naked and the Dead, died on Saturday. He was 84.
From his classic debut novel to masterworks of literary journalism such as The Armies of the Night, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality. Some of his works were highly praised, some panned, but none was pronounced the Great American Novel that seemed to be his life quest from the time he soared to the top as a brash 25-year-old enfant terrible.
Mr. Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife during a drunken party.
He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become New York Mayor, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women’s liberation. But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, “in the end it is the writing that will count.”
Mr. Mailer, he wrote, possessed “a superb natural style that does not crack under the pressures he puts upon it, a talent for narrative and characters with real blood streams and nervous systems, a great openness and eagerness for experience, a sense of urgency about the need to test thought and character in the crucible of a difficult era.”
His 1968 account of the peace march on the Pentagon, The Armies of the Night, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
When he was young, Mailer said, “fiction was everything. The novel, the big novel, the driving force. We all wanted to be Hemingway... I don’t think the same thing can be said anymore. I don’t think my work has inspired any writer, not the way Hemingway inspired me.” — AP