Over the next few days you will no doubt be hearing a whole lot about Norman Mailer. His death will trigger a slew of eulogies, barring a major world catastrophe. They will all tell you what an important writer he was, his feud with Gore Vidal, and maybe they will even elaborate on his books.
The fact is that over the past few years, most critics have treated Mailer with slightly less than contempt. Sure, they acknowledged his "prime years" but then they would treat his newest offering as if it was written by a doddering old man. The fact that Mailer continued writing up until the very end says more about him as a creative being than anything that any critic could offer. They simply refused to acknowledge that Mailer could still have questions about religion, such as in The Gospel According to the Son. The subjects that authors choose to tackle often say a great deal more than what they choose to say about those subjects. Mailer was clearly as curious and alive as he was in the 60s.
I have not read every single book Mailer has written. Nor do I feel the need to shout what I do know from the mountaintops. I can tell you that my appreciation for his work was offset at times by his issues with women, which I wrote about here. I can tell you that I think he represents the best that mid-century culture had to offer - the intellectual prowess demanded from those times coupled with the need to entertain. He also represented the downside of the mid-century - the overriding male perspective which postured before shouting down others. There may be plenty of yelling in pop culture today, but at least Mailer has something to say.
The best part about being a dead writer is that your books and thoughts live on. Rolling Stone had an article about Mailer a few years ago, talking about how he had to keep working to support his kids and many divorces. And so maybe that's the best part about being a dead man. Rest well, Norman Mailer, you can finally let your ideas and books do the work for you.