Norman Mailer is one of a handful of postwar writers to achieve a large measure of popular success and yet warrant consistent attention from critics. His novels and nonfiction narratives have been seen by many as sufficiently compelling to place him among those writers who will come to represent an era and to warrant continued notice. But because of his extraliterary exploits and the diversity of his works, not to mention his outspoken positions on a range of contemporary topics, critical consensus has been difficult to reach. The only consistent identity he has is that of novelist, although he has redefined that occupation, especially since the late 1960s, through his cross-fertilization of fiction and nonfiction writing modes. Mailer has been perhaps the central figure in developing these hybrid narratives, often called the New Journalism, a method of apprehending the turbulent events of American life since the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy using a variety of fictional techniques. Few twentieth-century American writers have written about a wider range of people and events with such intelligence; his work includes portraits of every American president after Eisenhower and coverage of six sets of political conventions and elections. He has also provided reportage and commentary on the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, the women's liberation movement, contemporary architecture, technology, the media, and the Vietnam War. In addition, Mailer has written biographies of a number of major famous and infamous Americans, including Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Lee Harvey Oswald, Gary Gilmore, and Henry Miller. Each person or phenomenon has elicited a shift, often a surprising shift, in his narrative method. Form follows function for Mailer. To understand his place in American literature, the various ways he has combined and reconstituted the assumptions and methods of the novel, journalism and historical narrative must be considered.Less
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