wait what?

Did Norman Mailer’s Official Biographer Forget the Writer Stabbed His Wife?

Norman Mailer.
Norman Mailer. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

In a puzzling new Village Voice Q&A about Norman Mailer’s significance today, the interviewer finds herself in the absurd position of having to remind the interviewee — who is Mailer’s “official archivist and biographer” — that the revered writer, uhh, stabbed his wife.

Run under the headline “Why Norman Mailer Still Matters in 2018,” the piece follows a pretty recognizable formula: writer-editor Amy Brady questions biographer J. Michael Lennon, who edited a new Mailer collection, about the New Journalist. But right at the end, after Brady asks about Mailer’s treatment of women but before Lennon says Mailer’s “understanding of the American experience was fantastic,” it gets awkward.

Below, the worrying exchange:

Let’s discuss Mailer in the context of our current post–Harvey Weinstein moment. How should we be thinking about his treatment of women?

[Mailer] came out of the Mad Men era of the Fifties and thought that men needed to be strong and masculine, but [he] was never accused of hurting any women.

He stabbed his wife!

Oh, he stabbed his wife, yeah. He…had a complex relationship with women, and he regretted many of the things he said about them. He knew those things were stupid. But his point of view was, well, “I am doing this to create a debate.” The women’s movement [back then] wasn’t perfect, and Mailer wanted to question [the women involved in it] and have a debate. But there’s no doubt that his views of women writers were twisted, and he only realized later on that he was being very sexist and hadn’t appreciated some great writing by American women.

Describing Mailer as having had “a complex relationship with women” is quite the euphemistic way to describe the man who seriously wounded his wife and once said “a little bit of rape is good for a man’s soul”!

Did a Biographer Forget Norman Mailer Stabbed His Wife?