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 The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

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PostSubject: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer   Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:43 pm

I have finally gotten around to reading a Norman Mailer novel, and I chose his first one, The Naked and the Dead. Basically, it is about a group of soldiers during World War II on a fictional Pacific island named Anopopei. It was published in 1948, when Mailer was an astonishingly young 24 years of age.

I came away with mixed feelings about this book. It is, first and foremost, a character study. The closest thing to a plot doesn't come until about two-thirds of the way through the book (and the book is 700+ pages long). Story was not important to Mailer. Character development was. And with that, he did a great job. Unfortunately, none of the characters are "warm and fuzzy". Far from it. There are the privates who do nothing but bitch and gripe, led by a sergeant who is part Captain Queeg and part General Custer. There are officers who are vainglorious and, in the case of one, a Harvard "liberal" (heretical! Suspect Laughing ). In short, there is nobody here to like.

Yet there are passages that are nothing short of brilliant. Mailer's writing at the age of 24 is very mature and insightful. Even though the characters are not likable, they seem very real. The reader feels their suffering, both physical and emotional, during a particularly grueling patrol. Their terror and helplessness is felt during an attack by Japanese soldiers.

There are some obvious "first book" mistakes, such as a surfeit of adverbs and a desire by the reader that Mailer's editor should have used his red pen a bit more. It is also interesting that the book is loaded with profanity, yet the word "f*ck" is replaced with "fug" (supposedly at the insistence of the publisher).

While the book has its share of flaws, it has made me interested in reading another Mailer work. I have heard that The Executioner's Song is quite good. Maybe I'll give that a try..

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