1300 pages is a big book, though norman mailer has written big books before, harlot's ghost and the executioner's song both top 1000 pages. if you're book weary, not to worry, the time of our time is an anthology of mailer's fiction and non-fiction selected from a 50 year writing history, from his over night sensational war novel, the naked and the dead, in 1948, to a couple of essays, included only in the paperback edition, on the morals of bill clinton and tom wolfe's second novel, a man in full, written in 1998.
i wouldn't suggest the time of our time as an introduction to mailer, the best way to read mailer is to grab one of his books, any one, and start reading, experiencing him at full tilt as he rides forth his ideas in one of his guises.
like soren kierkegaard, mailer takes on different names for himself in his non-fiction. what kierkegaard did anonymously as the author from the outside, mailer, who at one stage of his journey speaks of his ego, published his books under his name and, from inside the telling, calls himself a different name for each book: the reporter, the dean, aquarius, even mailer in the third person. and like kierkegaard, he's also a theological existentialist actively contemplating good and evil, god and devil. in an essay on jimmy carter, mailer visits carter in plains, ga, on a sunday, first at the church where carter, presidential nominee, is teaching sunday school, and later in the day at carter's home. mailer having read a quote by kierkegaard used by carter in his autobiography, mailer, territorial, attempts to sound carter out on his thoughts on kierkegaard, and is unable to break through carter's political speak.
and the time of our time shows mailer the challenger for the championship of the writer of the great novel as held by ernest hemingway. part of mailer's journey is doing battle with the hemingway persona: mailer as boxing fan and weekend boxer, mailer as bullfight afficianado, mailer living with grace under pressure, even mailer as serial husband. mailer sends one of his novels to hemingway for hemingway's blessing and in the silence of an answer begins to free himself from hemingway's shadow. his writing style undergoes a change, his sentences become run-on and serpentine, similar to sartre and kerouac, his sex scenes more direct, henry miller he cites as a great american writer, and he embues the form of non-fiction with a novelist's gifts. not that he forgets hemingway. a book of short stories by hemingway is entitled our time. mailer's probably most famous short story is the time of her time, and, of course, there's the title of the anthology.
the first book i read by norman mailer was of a fire on the moon, and i've never read any piece of non-fiction like that before. a sentence chosen at random from the selection in the time of our time: it had been a glum moment for aquarius. it was late at night, he was tired, he had been drinking with students for hours. as usual he was overweight. the boy was smaller than him but not at all overweight, fast.' those are sentences i'd expect to find in a novel not a work of non-fiction.
i don't care for anthologies and author readers. i bought the time of our time for a few complete pieces i haven't read. i did read the sections of the couple of books i haven't read, and what began to emerge was, well, what mailer intended and what he describes in his preface, a social history. and throughout many of the pages a history of the men who might become president, our most powerful position in the land. the arrangement of selections achieves a cohesiveness good as that in many a single book. after describing bill clinton as a pharaoh in an essay, the essay is followed by selections from mailer's novel, ancient evenings, about a pharoah.
and there's much more. mailer on psychoanalysis. mailer the hard drinker while on assignments, and his reflections on drinking, interviewing eagleton after his resignation as mcgovern's vice-presidential candidate: 'the impost of booze spoke of a war against too much of some powerful quality in oneself, too much perhaps of passion, talent, or pain.'
needless to say, i love norman mailer's writing. if you're on good terms with the writings of norman mailer, by all means get a hold of this book. if you're considering norman mailer's writing for the first time, if you insist on having this book, then resist reading it until you read something else by mailer.