An American Dream: A Review

I am currently reading Norman Mailer’s An American Dream. Mailer is a brilliant writer; none can dispute that. My problem with him is that he is difficult to read. He writes a novel as if he were writing an academic thesis; his target audience appears to be scholars and literary critics. I cannot imagine a casual reader enjoying Mailer, as his books are a real effort. Let me explain: his sentences are unnecessarily long and verbose, and he clearly favours a comma over a full stop. Maybe his editors are to blame, but I read a lot of books, I read pretty fast and I am not grammatically challenged. However, each page is taking me forever to read because I have to keep retracing paragraphs and reminding myself of what just happened. I’m not saying Mailer should dumb himself down; if anything, our fast-food culture could benefit from the increased literary production of ‘difficult’ books instead of the countless celebrity autobiographies on display in book shops.  Nor am I saying that I am not enjoying the book. I just think that Mailer could be a little clearer and more concise in some areas, especially in the beginning when the main character Rojack is reminiscing about the war. However, aside from all that, An American Dream (so far) is an intriguing book. Rojack is an incredibly complex character; so complex, in fact, that I can’t decide whether I like him or not. He clearly has a deep and consuming hatred of women, most evident in his relationship with Deborah. It would not be an unforgivable sin to accuse Mailer of misogyny, as his imagery depicting women is crude and offensive; particularly when Rojack calls Ruta a Nazi and many other profanities during their sexual encounter in Deborah’s apartment. As well as this, Deborah, Rojack’s ex-wife, is portrayed as an absolute bitch who has done everything in her power to break down her husband’s spirit and confidence throughout their years of marriage. Mailer has a severe Oedipus complex, it seems, evident in the subtle allusions to motherhood scattered throughout. There is little wonder why this book was so controversial when it was first published: the scenes with Rojack and Ruta, Deborah’s maid, are sexually explicit to such an extent that I would feel like a teenage boy being caught masturbating if anyone caught me reading it. It is definitely a guilty pleasure; the kind that I have only ever experienced with one other book: Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir. All in all, if you can put Mailer’s intellectual elitism aside and don’t mind books which really exercise your brain (if you were a computer, you would be using alot of processing power), then An American Dream might just be the book you need to read.

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