Catching Up on Mailer

Cannibals and Christians

by Norman Mailer
The Dial Press, 399 pp., $5.95

The Deer Park

A Play by Norman Mailer
Theatre de Lys

Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer; drawing by David Levine

Some books, perhaps some authors, resist the reviewer if not the reader. The reviewer, that show-off drudge, is perhaps a man who hates to make up his mind and thus compulsively gets into positions where he has to do it. And the reviewer also thinks he ought to be a critic. He ought to have the further nerve to become conscious of his like or dislike. This is not so easy as it might seem to us when we think we are doing it in conversation: “How did you like it?” The reviewer wants to describe a book, analyze it, say where it belongs in the range of the author’s work and in the range of literature; he wants to say why it is there, where it came from, and where it seems to be going. Books can’t be put through a quantitative analysis, and the road test of a play is not the same as the road test of a new kind of automobile.

Either you feel yourself into the center of a book, always a rather frightening and surprising experience if it is any kind of book at all, as surprising and frightening as the revelation in a fight or a new love—or you don’t. If you do, you then have to think your way out again, and that can be hard work. Some books resist all this.

Norman Mailer’s Cannibals and Christians was published nearly a year ago, and the following brief notice is the first this journal has carried. I don’t know how many reviewers have jilted or failed my editors over this book during these months, but I hereby fail them now by offering a notice rather than a proper review or a proper piece of criticism. A notice is also offered of Norman Mailer’s play, The Deer Park, which opened weeks ago. I will even include here for notice the title The Presidential Papers by Norman Mailer (1963), unreviewed in this paper; Mailer prints, in Cannibals and Christians, his side of the correspondence with the paper about this omission, and lists the eleven people to whom he sent carbon copies.

THE PLAY dramatizes the central plot of Mailer’s novel The Deer Park (1955). It is a good evening of theater, and seems to prove again the assertion that our novelists could write our playwrights off the stage if they only cared to. And yet perhaps it also shows why they don’t care to do it. The theater at last gets the best of the author. The play is excellently produced, and although it seems much too long, it keeps jumping around like popcorn popping. The actors look so much like the people in the novel that it is almost spooky. The general scene is convincing, as if this might be what Hollywood really was like back in the old days of movie czars and movie…

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