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This review is from: The Deer Park (Paperback)
Sergius is a loser. Mailer makes his narrator a loser for reasons I cannot fathom, and makes him a little less convincing than he could have been. What turned a disciplined Air Force pilot into a drifter, floating from one shallow experience to another? Though Sergius's drifting is psychological - what does he want to do now he's out of the military? Writing seems to be the main focus, but he spends more time getting drunk and hanging out with call girls, pimps, washed-up movie stars and black-listed directors, never fitting into the society he has gate-crashed, but somehow finds himself accepted. He buddies up in the bedroom and the bar, and slowly loses the few thousand dollars he has in the bank.
Mailer is asking us about the point of patriotism, I think. "Patriotism is for pigs" says a director on the black list, and "Patriots feel strongly and think weakly" notes the narrator. What better example of patriotism can be found than a military serviceman? They are Patriotism personified. So, what does a grateful country offer one of its loyal servants when their time in uniform is up? Mailer gives us the answer: nothing.
It happens that Sergius drifts into a world of debauchery and indulgence, but this is just as empty a world in terms of its moral backbone as the gutter and back-alley scraps between hobos and junkies. Mailer gives his protagonist a well-tailored, sexually promiscuous, boozed-up abyss with no meaning or pay off for his dedication to the flag. It makes for a warmer poverty than can be found on the streets, but poverty it is.
Mailer was far too intelligent to be a patriot, and that is what vibrates at the heart of this book: serving your country is for nought. It is a wasteland that awaits you afterwards, and that wasteland comes in many distracting disguises.