EPS Review #171 - An American Dream

An American Dream, by Norman Mailer, William Harper 2006 (© 1965), 238pp.

Archie proposed that we read some Mailer in our book club, because Mailer, at his death, was called the greatest American writer of the 20th century. Most of us had never read anything by him. American Dream seemed like the best pick, though The Naked and the Dead and Ancient Evenings also appealed.

I did not manage to attend our meeting this time, because I had to partake of Ross's school evening about GCSEs (did you know that in England, that if you decide to do physics, chemistry and biology, then you do absolutely no humanities for the last two years of high school?) The other time I missed book club we were reading Choke, which has a lot in common with American Dream: both are well-written but nasty pieces of work.

I wonder if it is easier to write nasty than nice. The protagonist, Stephen Rojack kills a nest of Germans during the war and wins a medal. He is a congressman for a while, and marries Deborah, your heartless society woman that he strangles (watch out for the hyoid bone when you do this). Rojack is always very drunk. The cops know he did it, but there are mysterious forces at work like spies and the mafia. The pages are packed with smells and sex and the type of druggy sixties writing where Rojack imagines forces flowing between him and other people, affecting their actions. The story did grip me for several hours as I sat on a malfunctioning First Capital Connect train. I won't forget in a hurry what Rojack did to the maid.

But in the end I did not particularly like it.

Tim wrote: You're so right about the smells. The book should really be called halitosis dream, not american dream. I didn't like it much - the characters just seemed too implausible. For evil, I really enjoyed No Country for Old Men; it's a literary novel.

Archie wrote: Erich - we variously concluded the book was dated, nasty, vivid, brilliant, badly plotted, overly obsessed with smell, odd, brilliant at the sex, terrible at the sex, with a wretched and unforgivably useless ending etc etc...

Joe wrote: If I may add my opinion, nothing of Mailer's that I sampled after The Naked and the Dead showed any merit. I was assigned The Deer Park in college and found it to be pretentious crap. I started An American Dream and could not find anything in it worth pursuing. Interestingly, it was written after he stabbed his second wife at a party.