The image of Mailer left by these two gentle and enjoyable books is essentially comic, from his first appearance as Norris’s seducer — a swaggering 52, “chesty, but not fat, like a sturdy small horse . . . he radiated energy like a little steam heater” — to the octogenarian in his Uggs and his favorite woolen vest (the one given him by Russell Crowe), fussing over his mail and issuing diktats to the kitchen.
He never stopped working. On Dwayne Raymond’s watch, he was slogging bravely through his Hitler novel The Castle in the Forest — with vibes of disapproval wafting from Norris, who loathed the project. (That’s understandable, since as Raymond observes, “The entire top floor of her house now resembled a Nazi propaganda vault.”) In a timely manner, he was also turning his thoughts heavenward, for his heretic’s manifesto On God, the daftest and in some ways most lovable of his books. A Ticket to the Circus and Mornings with Mailer are recognizably about the same man, and they’re animated by the same vanished presence: a presence that even in old age, even, in fact, at the point of death, seems to have remained an event — an occasion that one rose to.
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