Sep 04, 2009, 10:37AM

2 Years Later...

How is Norman Mailer to be remembered?

As the second anniversary of his passing approaches, it is worth asking: How is Norman Mailer, without question the most famous American writer of the second half of the 20th century, to be remembered? It is a measure of Mailer’s effect on the culture, for better or for worse, that answering the question is a pressing and valuable task. Are we to esteem him, in the words of Newsweek’s Malcolm Jones, as “a writer who [was]—and there truly is no point debating this now, is there—one of the very greatest authors of his time”? Or was Charles McGrath of the New York Times closer to the truth when he wrote that “he was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.... And if he never quite succeeded in bringing off what he called ‘the big one’—the Great American Novel—it was not for want of trying”?


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