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Norman Mailer: Deer Park

Some critics consider this work to be Mailer’s masterpiece, indeed, to be a masterpiece of modern US literature; others, like me, are far less convinced. It is set in the fictional California desert town of Desert d’Or, presumably Palm Springs. The hero/narrator has the wildly improbable name of Sergius O’Shaugnessy (his father had changed the last name from their original Slovene one). He goes to Desert d’Or after leaving the Air Force, to have a good time and hangs out with a bunch of people who are linked to the film industry and who are professional drinkers. Sergius wants to be a writer but does not seem to do a very good job of it, so he settles down to be a drinker and stud, fucking his way around the Desert d’Or community (this is presumably autobiographical or, at least, wish-autobiographical).

As with so many of Mailer’s works, his characters are poorly drawn. The women are either overblown performers or sex objects (or both), the men are too often stereotypes, including our hero, the innocent Ulysses character on his voyage of discovery. The set pieces are just that – the obvious drinking-fucking-gambling-movie talk stuff. Mailer’s problem seems to be that he just not know where he is going with this novel and nor do we. Is it satire, Norman’s philosophical workout, an insight into the film industry, a novel of manners? Is it F. Scott, Nathaniel West or the Jewish James Joyce? Who knows? Not, I and certainly not Norm.

Publishing history

First published 1955 by G. P Putnam’s Sons