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Mailer has been a relative blind spot among American novelists for me; I’ve only read The Naked and the Dead (on the subject I prefer James Jones) and Armies of the Night. Mailer, of course, is more (or less) than his books; he’s also been a gadfly/punchline for the last thirty years of American political and cultural life. He didn’t really write things that made sense, but at least they failed to make sense in interesting ways, as long as you didn’t have to read them. My favorite Mailer moments come during When We Were Kings, as he and Plimpton discuss the Foreman-Ali fight and its greater significance. Mailer strikes a blow against the classic “white guy goes to Africa and goes crazy” narrative; he was clearly crazy before he arrived in Zaire.

Rest in peace.

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