Cockburn – Adieu to Norman Mailer (scroll down)
Some of those texts don’t stand up all that well: the Picasso biography reads like notations from an art history lecture at the MOMA, Tough Guys Don’t Dance a mediocre Ross McDonald novel, The Deer Park, his novel about Hollywood, should have been better, the Marilyn books are almost as pathetic as his long-running obsession with Jack Kennedy.
Still for fifty years Mailer stood at the top of the pile: The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore (a novel about official paranoia that is perhaps more relevant today than when it was published), An American Dream, Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Harlot’s Ghost. All better books than anything written by that favorite of the book critics Philip Roth. Only Vidal comes close to Mailer’s long-running achievement.
It’s hard to name a better novel written in the 1970s than The Executioner’s Song. Even Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow seems dwarfed by that sprawling portrait of Gary and Nicole Gilmore and the inexorable descent toward the firing squad in that spooky prison outside Provo. It’s a big book with an immediate voice: clear and chilling. Among other virtues, Mailer captures the strangeness and beauty of life in Utah better than any book since Wallace Stegner’s Mormon Country.