Norman Mailer’s Fat Lady Sings

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 5 2010 6:03 PM

Norman Mailer’s Fat Lady Sings

This is a guest post from  Slate's Timothy Noah   

In the April 4 New York Times Magazine Norris Church Mailer, the last of Norman Mailer's six wives and author of a new memoir , tells Alex Witchel that Norman cheated on her with "a small army of women":

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When Norris discovered the scope of Mailer's infidelities, she was struck by how many of the women were either his age-he was near 70 then-or significantly overweight. "He made the remark, 'Sometimes I want to be the attractive one.' I think he felt if it wasn't somebody young and beautiful, he wasn't betraying me as much.

Notwithstanding Ms. Mailer's beauty and youth (when they met in 1975 she was, at 26, literally half his age), it won't come as a major surprise to anyone even glancingly familiar with Mailer's life and work that he remained a compulsive seducer of women into his twilight years . Mailer's libido was such an open book that well before his widow wrote A Ticket to the Circus   (you might also consult a separate new memoir by Carole Mallory, a model who claims she began an affair with Norman three years after he married Norris) we knew not only what Mailer thought about sex , but specifically what he thought about sex with fat women . Witchel's magazine piece sent me back to Mailer's 1998 pan of Tom Wolfe's A Man In Full (a book I rather liked ) in the New York Review of Books :

At certain points, reading the work can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a three-hundred-pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated. So you read and you grab and you even find delight in some of these mounds of material. Yet all the while you resist-how you resist!-letting three hundred pounds take you over.

Even at the time I remember thinking this paragraph didn't tell you much about Wolfe's novel, or even about Mailer's opinion about Wolfe's novel. Both topics seemed to bore him. Making love to fat women, on the other hand, was a topic that clearly fired his literary imagination.

Juliet Lapidos is a former Slate associate editor.