Literary Birthday: Norman Mailer

When not heaving out controversy-grabbing articles and books, Norman Mailer (born today in 1915) was making a big stink of showing up at protest marches, running for office, or gabbing out of both sides of his mouth on some talk show. His books and articles were often reflections of that garrulous gasbag personality.

His 1967 novel, Why Are We in Vietnam?, is a case in point. A stream-of-consciousness rant from a high unreliable narrator that draws from the Beats, Philip Roth, and Mailer’s own slurry of impressions of a degraded and violent America, the book baffled more than a few readers, who did not understand why a book set almost entirely on a father-son hunting trip in Alaska did not even make any overt connection to its title until the famous last line: “Vietnam, hot damn.”

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