I’m super embarrassed to realize I never actually posted a review of this book, especially since I loved it so much. This is part of my goal to read a Pulitzer Prize book a month, which you can read about here.
Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for his masterpiece The Executioner’s Song in 1980, but it would be over twenty years later until I discovered him. And even then, I read The Naked & The Dead. In fact, every time I tried to draft this review in my head, I just started writing a review for TN&TD, which I think means we need to have a small break for story time.
I was in high school and this guy, this super cool guy, this guy who had always been like a big brother to me, who used to tuck me in at night when I failed to stay up late with the big kids, this guy was going off to war. It was the first time the politics of a world bigger than I was managed to rip through my protective bubble and stare me in the eye, and I was heartbroken. And I was confused. And, finally, I was curious because I was raised in a bubble that doesn’t include war. So somehow, long story short, I bought Norman Mailer’s The Naked & The Dead to learn about war. Spoiler alert (not really) for those who haven’t read it: War is teh lame. In a traumatizing, awful, violent, horrific, psychologically-damaging way. Poor timing aside*, TN&TD blew me away with how brilliant it was. I loved it. I was in love with Mailer’s writing and so eager to read everything else he had ever written and found myself up against a brick wall. This is the part that baffles me, because I’ve always been a sucker for a book with too many pages. If I had seen Executioner’s Song back then, I would have snatched it up in a heartbeat. Barnes & Noble and my high school library really let me down. But that’s okay, because I found it a few months ago and could not stop that swelling wave of wriggly-lined anticipation in my chest.
The best part, guys? It was totally worth it. Yes, it’s long and yes, it’s sad and depressing. But. BUT. BUT! Mailer? He’s a guy who you can trust. You can trust that every single one of those sentences was crafted with painstakingly intentional care. He lets the voice of the story evolve. It evolves, guys, and that nerdy little fact pleases me more than most of the rest of the book. It’s beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s honest. It’s unflinching in its honesty and wow. If I was actually going to write a solid review of this book–side note: you guys know these so-called reviews are really just opportunities for me to wax poetic about my memories of reading, right, because if not, well, awkward… But if I was actually going to write a solid review of this book, I would totally plagiarize the introduction Dave Eggers wrote in the edition I own. He nailed it. It’s the fasted 1000+ page tombe you will ever read UNLESS you’re reading Game of Thrones. Seriously, tell me I’m not the only one who read the entire series in less than a month? I’m not even bragging. It’s not something I’m proud of. Around book three I felt like the characters were holding my eyelids open and forcing me to read unwilling. It was exhausting and draining and a little invasive.
Summation: Win. So much win. So much depressing, agonizing, though-provoking win. Also violence is teh lame. Also also I’m totally going to go re-read TN&TD now.
*He came back from that tour, and from another one, and married my sister last year. I literally walked him down the aisle. Happy endings were had by all. Except, you know, the characters in those books. Below are photos of us at his (and my sister’s) wedding reception. The one on the left is our bear impression. It’s a family tradition.