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Why Are We in Vietnam?

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When Why Are We in Vietnam? was published in 1967, almost twenty years after The Naked and the Dead, the critical response was ecstatic. The novel fully confirmed Mailer's stature as one of the most important figures in contemporary American literature. Now, a new edition of this exceptional work serves as further affirmation of its timeless quality.

Narrated by Ranald ("D.J.") Jethroe, Texas's most precocious teenager, on the eve of his departure to fight in Vietnam, this story of a hunting trip in Alaska is both brilliantly entertaining and profoundly thoughtful.

215 pages, Paperback

Published August 5, 2000

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About the author

Norman Mailer

282 books1,199 followers
Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once. In 1955, Mailer, together with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which began as an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper initially distributed in Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 64 reviews
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
859 reviews2,176 followers
April 10, 2017
Canon Fire

The American Post-Modernist Movement is preoccupied with establishing a canon of masterpieces that will replace any more widely-recognised pre-existing Modernist canon.

In order to inflate the reputations of William H. Gass, William Gaddis and Alexander Theroux, it denigrated and then omitted Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth (all three, Jewish-American writers), their only fault being that they were relatively popular and commercially successful, i.e., people actually bought and read their books.

More recently, the fifty year attack on Norman Mailer has intensified, so that there could be a place for William T. Vollmann, who is in reality just a poor man’s Mailer.

Four Into Five

It’s a long time since I first read “Why Are We in Vietnam?”. I had forgotten most of it, including the fact that it is a novel, rather than a non-fiction work.

However, having read much Post-Modernism since then, it seemed to me that it was like William Gaddis’ “J.R.” meets Robert Coover’s “The Public Burning” meets Joseph McElroy’s “Women and Men” (even though all three works were written many years after Mailer’s novel).

Some of the language and attitudes has dated since it was first published in 1967. I was tempted to rate it four stars. However, I gave the other three novels at least four or five stars, for all their flaws. At least, Mailer achieved something comparable, if not significantly better, in just 208 pages. (Ironically, Mailer's normal publisher, to whom the book was contracted, declined to publish it, because it was too short to publish as a novel.) Therefore, he gets five.

Because There Are Men Like This

Mailer doesn’t expressly answer the question posed by the title of the novel. However, he implies that the answer is “because there are men in America like these”.

The novel purports to be narrated by 18 year old Dallas Texan, Ranald “D.J.” Jethroe, in fact he dictates it into a tape recorder as if he were telling a tale on late night radio. Then again, it’s possible that the person who is reading into the tape recorder is a black man from Harlem. Thus, we alternately get the perspectives of a privileged white, redneck American male who hates his capitalist father, and an underprivileged black man who hates the people and the economic system responsible for his plight.

Why Are We On a Great Big Grizzly Bear Hunt?

D.J’s father, Big Daddy, old Rusty, is a senior executive in a corporation, Central Consolidated Combined Chemical and Plastic (CCCC&P)(“4C&P”), which supplies filters to tobacco and aerospace companies. Rusty plays like he works, extremely competitive, which is exemplified on his annual grizzly bear hunting expedition in Alaska, from which he must return with a bear skin, if not also a caribou and a wolf.

This year (which is two years in the past, when DJ is 16), somebody from work drops out, so DJ (Dr. Jek) gets to attend with his best friend, Gottfried “Tex” Hyde (Mr Hyde). Tex has the hots for DJ’s mother, Hallelujah, whose Jewish analyst describes DJ as “recalcitrant, charming, gracious, anti-Semitic, morally anaesthetised, and smoldering with presumptive violence...Face into the eye of the real, Hallelujah, he’s a humdinger of a latent homosexual highly over-heterosexual with onanistic narcissistic and sodomistic overtones, a choir task force of libidinal cross-hybrided vectors.” In other words, he takes after his father (even though he’s his mother’s favourite).

The language is a high-paced and energetic blend of jive talk, army slang, and Texas schoolboy patois. This is Mailer’s “white negro” hipster on tour. With guns...and helicopters. As Steven Moore would say, “it reads like a thriller”.

That said, there are many allusions to Euripides, Shakespeare, Huckleberry Finn, Kierkegaard and James Joyce.


While Rusty is preoccupied with shooting a grizzly, and Tex shoots a wolf, DJ has an epiphany in the wild. Surrounded by electro-magnetic fields in the mountains (a la subsequent McElroy), he becomes part of a Universal Mind, in which he empathises with the wild beasts as if they had human characteristics. He might have Rusty’s red blood, but he’s not the true-blue All-American “hunter-fighter-fucker” that his father’s generation was:

“DJ is full of mother-love received in full crazy bitch perfume aromas from Hallie, whereas Tex is full of ape shit daddy-love.”

When you learn that two years later (when they turn 18) DJ and Tex will be off to war in Vietnam, you have to wonder what will transpire. Will it be just another great big grizzly bear hunt? Or will they get their asses whipped?
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
August 1, 2015
Norman Mailer’s Why are We in Vietnam? is obscene gobbledygook.

Characterized as New Journalism, and using as a literary technique an omnipresent stream of consciousness from the perspective of an 18 year old protagonist, a young Texan named DJ. I had to keep reminding myself that when this came out in 1967 it was probably edgy and avant-garde.

It is not timeless, though its rambling observation on American male ego could be. If one can get past the thick as molasses run on sentences and casual grammatical syntax, the reader discovers a rich and layered depth of literary, cultural and philosophic references, allusions and symbolism.

Actually, if you can make it to the end, the last 10 pages almost make this labored read worth it, almost. But Mailer makes us work too hard and the book is just not that enjoyable or entertaining, and it may have lost its thought provoking air years ago.

Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
March 4, 2019
"So back to Alaska where the boys got their power."
- Norman Mailer, Why Are We In Vietnam


I've been making my way through, piggly wiggly, Library of America's new collection of Mailer: Four Books of the 1960s. The two I read previous to this were both fictionalized history, his contribution to New Journalism: The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History and Miami and the Siege of Chicago. So, I started this (not doing my homework) expecting it to be more of the same. Nope. I was off by a long-shot. This is post-modern fiction. An experimental novel that reads like Hemingway got hot and heavy with William Burroughs. Mailer barely mentions Vietnam (last page as the narrator/protagonist heads to Vietnam). What Mailer is doing with this novel is exposing the character and the corruption of America that lead us to Vietnam. This book explores the fight, f#c%, and food; the shit, the show, and the sport that makes the American male. He also shows how this all has been corrupted and twisted in our need to win, to conquer, to co-opt.

I went back and forth with this one. Some Mailer I love. Some I can barely stand. This one? I don't know. There were moments of brilliant filth, poetic degradation, and insane insight. He gets a lot right. I'm just not sure, in the end, how powerful it really is and how much is just self-indulgent. I think Mailer often gets dumped on for the wrong reasons. I think, as a writer, he deserves a bit more respect. But he definitely is uneven. I think he was playing with form, pushing envelopes, being provocative. Those are all very good things. I'm just not sure I would list this as one of his top-shelf novels (or books).
Profile Image for Will.
272 reviews65 followers
January 16, 2023
This is a terribly written book as a channeling of Burroughs and Augie March, but Mailer is one of a few writers whose worst books (that is, most of what he wrote) have a compelling originality. Someone can't be this estranged from mainstream political thought and be boring. Mailer called himself a "left conservative" (a renaming of his frenemy Paul Goodman's "neolithic conservatism"), and he was prone to ridiculous but fun opinions that today would be finger-waved away as prejudiced. Example: in his great docu-novel, Armies of Night, he writes, "The only thing worse than homosexuality and masturbation is the two of them together." (I'm gay and I laughed.) Politically, Mailer was an early opponent of what today has been clarified as neoliberalism, and though the word is absent in his work, it's a useful way of lumping all his dislikes together.

Why are We in Vietnam?'s teen-angst hero, DJ, is the Burroughs-reading son to a corporate executive, and the novel moves toward the defeat of his individual attempt at rebellion: "the experience of a lifetime excites greed in the common man." Despite the blunt criticisms of managerial values (M.A. Pete being "Medium Asshole Pete"), his young characters don't see any social strata between the individual and the state; in between are families and employers (corporations, the US Army): life follows rites of passages and job changes, it revolves around go-getters vs. do-nothings. And so even as the novel moves toward the enlightenment of two young friends, DJ and Tex, it's merely the realignment of established values and not, as Nietzsche would say, the revaluation of them. Drafted, they see no alternative to going to Vietnam, to repeat some version of the same story but on a grander scale, now with generational brotherhood. Bellow's Dangling Man did something like this for WWII, but on a strictly existential plane, not that that made it more fraught. Bellow may be the better writer but intellectually he's a bore. Mailer can be terrible, but I take his ideas seriously: they're more than dumb quips like Herzog's about Heidegger.
Profile Image for Dan.
995 reviews104 followers
July 5, 2022
A young man tells about a hunting trip he went on with his father. For me, one interesting thing about the novel is the way that, beneath the Oedipal tensions on the level of the action and in the narrator’s commentary, Mailer represents the generational struggles of the 1960s as a struggle between two concepts of masculinity (many readers may find either or both concepts hyper-masculine). In contrast to the John Wayne traditions of his father, the narrator’s masculinity represents something newer, more hip (however, the narrator’s comments on hunting and bullfighting suggest that a Hemingwayan style of masculinity is something both father and son agree on). The narrator’s hip masculinity is reflected in his improvisational style of narration, which employs a lot of slang and wordplay and may remind some of the classic radio deejay or the Beat poet, and certainly the rhetoric of sixties protest. The amount of cloacal imagery here may remind some readers of work by Henry Miller or William S. Burroughs.

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Profile Image for Mark Noble.
86 reviews7 followers
June 13, 2015
Why are We in Vietnam is Norman Mailer’s novel protesting the war, first published in 1967. It is the last novel he wrote before writing his famous non-fiction accounts of the march on the Pentagon and the 1968 political conventions. Mailer was strongly opposed to the war and used a very creative, humorous but dark format to convey his feelings. The book is not about the war per se. It is told from the perspective of a young man at a dinner party to celebrate his departure to fight in Vietnam, along with a high school friend. Ranald Jethroe, aka DJ (Disc Jockey to the world) is the son of a Texas alpha male, Rusty Jethroe and pretty little Alice Hallie Lee Jethroe. He recounts the story of a hunting safari he took with his father and his friend Tex Hyde to hunt for big game in Alaska. It is a short but difficult book. It reads as if written by a hybrid of Joyce and Vonnegut. Alternating chapters are a stream of consciousness as if DJ were playing back a tape in his head. He is hip, cynical, and profane. Rather than focus on the war, Mailer shows us the culture and personality that got America into the war and allowed it to continue for so long.

Rusty is a caricature of everything macho in American corporate life. He is a vulgar, aggressive winner, taking no prisoners in business life, personal life, hunting, parenting or sex. He is brutal, violent, destructive but certain that he is the most potent and masculine person around. He is a cog in the machine that is corporate America, surrounded by yes-men MBA’s. Mailer has fun painting the picture of this culture as one of mind numbing conformity and single minded pursuit of spoils for the victor. He also plays with another favorite theme, the corruption of technical know-how to support the corporate culture. At one point he drafts a long, Melvillian list in great technical detail of all of the weapons that will be used on the safari, a veritable menu for the violent technocrats who populate the corporate world and who are very well represented by Rusty Jethroe. The hunt becomes a joke, with the guides working to set up easy shots (but not too easy) while struggling to protect the hunters from maiming each other. They marshal enough weapons to fight a war, including helicopters to spot game and move the hunters, so that Rusty can go home with a proper Alaskan bear as a trophy. The carnage is impressive. The novel is very funny but in a very dark and pessimistic way. There are a few poignant and tender moments when DJ and Tex leave the group and head out into the frightfully beautiful Alaskan wilderness by themselves. Despite this interlude, it is certain that both of these young men will carry the American spirit with them when they get to Vietnam and continue the hunt without missing a beat.

Fifty years later this book is still relevant It is not about a specific war, but about the American psyche that leads us into such wars. We managed to get out of Vietnam, but there is a long list of subsequent conflicts that we as a nation eagerly entered. I doubt that our national culture and personality has changed too much over this time. It was not so long ago that Dick Cheney shot one of his political companions while on a dove hunt in Texas. This could have been a chapter taken right out of Why Are We in Vietnam.

As a post script, I have reread four of Mailer’s first five books, all novels, recently: The Naked and the Dead, The Deer Park, An American Dream and Why Are We in Vietnam (Barbary Shore was so bad I could not face another reading). It struck me how different from each other these novels are, despite being penned by the same author over a period of less than 20 years. Popular novelists today tend to stay within a genre and a formula; I am thinking about writers like Dean Koontz, John Grisham, and Harlan Coben. Even the more “literary” writers, such as Jim Harrison, John Irving and Ian McEwen tend to write novels that are recognizable as their brand. I believe many of Mailer’s contemporaries, William Styron, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal, wrote across a broader spectrum and addressed more intellectual topics than today’s popular writers. I wonder if the writers are responding to changes in the market or if the writers themselves have changed the market?
Profile Image for jessica juniper.
16 reviews3 followers
June 24, 2008
The title is decieving...this book is not exactly about Vietnem, its about the psychological and sociological repercussions of that war on American society, and the young people faced with the prospect of that war. You have to read the whole thing cover to cover to completely understand it, but once you so your left amazed. My favorite Mailer book.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews2,973 followers
October 17, 2008
in a way mailer's stupid books make me love him more than his great ones.
Profile Image for Ryan.
38 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2023
This is a weird one. As its title implies, its central thesis is one that seeks to explain the U.S. presence in Vietnam, but rather than being some sort of dry tract that deals with the worsening conflict or that region explicitly, its a heavily Joyce- and Burroughs-inspired rant in the form of an Alaskan bear hunt, borrowing Faulkner's metaphor of encroaching modernity from "The Bear" to instead psychoanalyze the sex- and violence-obsessed perspectives of a group of Texas men of industry and two macho adolescents, one of whom, "D.J.," is the son of the main Texan industrialist and serves as our narrator. As with most Mailer, good and bad, genius is in evidence here-- I don't think any other writer of his stature would have ever thought of such a thing, let alone attempted, let alone then published it-- and there are moments when that genius coheres into a satisfying work of politically-engaged art: the parts explicitly dealing with the hunt, especially those in which the party slaughters dozens of animals with absurdly overpowered weaponry and the assistance of a helicopter, do hone in on something inherent and essential to the character of the American ruling class. But the endless portmanteau puns and ventures into scatological humor and AAVE/jive become tiresome as often as not, and finally serve to keep the reader (or at least this reader) at a distance and weaken the overall effect. I think I might have liked it (much) more had the aforementioned flourishes been mostly confined to the "intro beeps" preceding all but one of the book's eleven chapters, and the chapters themselves had been a bit more focused on the sort of more traditionally gripping but still poetic descriptive writing seen in, for example, much of Chapter 10. I will say that despite the book's intended relevance to Vietnam, it's no less germane to later American adventurism in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.
Profile Image for Vannibaldassarre.
8 reviews3 followers
October 3, 2019
Romanzo difficilissimo, nonostante la brevità, di cui Mailer andava molto orgoglioso, al punto di definirlo ‘le migliori 200 pagine scritte nella mia carriera’.
Io non sono esattamente un amante della narrativa sperimentale, e già dopo un paio di capitoli sono stato tentato di abbandonare. Sono contento di essere riuscito ad arrivare in fondo, perché il romanzo ha degli elementi di interesse, in primis la struttura narrativa; del Vietnam che campeggia nel titolo non c’è traccia, ma la storia raccontata (una battuta di caccia all’orso in Alaska) ne è una metafora intelligente e riuscita.
Fosse stata anche scritta in maniera potabile, avrei apprezzato molto.
Profile Image for Rick.
1,003 reviews9 followers
June 12, 2020
In Norman's words, a "slow smelly backed-up
hardly moving narrative stream of facts, figures,
and general meaningless horse-shit..." (p.96)
Profile Image for Ted Burke.
158 reviews21 followers
June 19, 2020
Mailer did try to understand the nature of evil imaginatively in a series of essays, novels, and journalism, most notably in his novels "An American Dream", a fictional piece where a Maileresque hero (the celebrity Mailer) willfully gives himself over to a violent impulse and seeks to rid himself of what he considers is killing him psychically : he murders his wife, steals a Mafia Don's mistress, beats up a character intended to represent to be Miles Davis, and defies the New York City Police Department, the CIA and other sinister , secret forces. It should be mentioned that the novel's hero is constantly drunk through this escapade. It is a brilliantly written book, containing many passages of astonishing poetry and insight into mores and social relations, and I regard it as an obscene male fantasy he needed to write , an act of speculation about what would happen if the Mailer hero were unleashed onto the world. Mailer, a big older and wizened to a degree, was likely not all that pleased with the mess this existentialist in the course of the story.

I suspect he felt to write his next novel, "Why Are We in Vietnam", as an attempt to suggest reasons for the propensity of American males to irrational violence--it's a funny story about an Alaskan bear hunt, a reworking of "The Bear" by Faulkner, and through the characters he presents a thick layering of issues that are not resolved and which, being un-diagnosed and not dealt with in any authentic way, mingle and merge and produce a tension that can only be released through violence or art. Mother issues, latent homosexuality, technology removing culture and the people in it from authentic, tactile experience with their world, a political agenda that knows only to expand and conquer with religion and natural law as bogus rationales--this is a lumpy stew of issues that make us , as a whole and individually, functionally insane and capable of nearly anything as the right provocation presents itself. "The products of America go insane" is what William Carlos Williams said, and the title of the novel, asking us why we are in Vietnam, has a simple answer: because we had to be, by our nature. This is not to let anyone off the the hook by blaming Mailer's act on environment and other extraneous details.

Mailer's violence against Adele Morales was , at the heart of the matter, a conscious act. He was aware of the difference between right and wrong and he chose to do a wrong thing. Mailer, I think, is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and was deserving of the praise he has received , but he also deserves the damnation . He has written several masterpieces and over all I think his literary reputation will grow . But we need to remember all the things he did and understand, as well, that there is something unjust about a man, no matter how you admire his work, who thrives professionally after the fact.
Profile Image for Elmistico .
26 reviews23 followers
July 28, 2008
Aussi paradoxal que cela puisse paraître Pourquoi sommes-nous au Vietnam? ne parle pas du Vietnam. En réalité la seule allusion faites au Vietnam se trouve dans les dernières lignes :

"Réfléchis Amérique à tête de cul, et médite un peu sur ton con. Peut-être comprendras-tu pourquoi nous somme au Vietnam."

Comme vous l'avez peut-être deviné, le livre ne mâche pas ses mots. Effectivement Pourquoi sommes nous au Vietnam est l'un des livres les plus violents et les plus glauques que j'ai pu lire dans ma courte existence !

Dans ce court récit nous suivons Dj et son père de la haute. Le narrateur est Dj lui même, jeune bourgeois texan totalement psychotique. Celui emploie un langage ordurier durant tout le roman séparé en plusieurs parties réunis sous les Flash (partie ou DJ se laisse aller à ses délires paranoïaques) et Obscène (partie racontant la partie de chasse). Dj nous explique alors au début le cadre de vie dans lequel il vit. Violent récit d'une bourgeoisie texane complètement abrutie et orgueilleuse. Puis nous arrivons à la partie la plus intéressante du récit : La partie de chasse visant à obtenir le trophée suprême la tête d'un grizzly. Dj use pour cela d'un humour féroce qui fait jaillir des pages totalement délirantes d'où sort une certaine beauté. Pour faire une comparaison, c'est vraiment proche de l'écrite de Burroughs dans le Festin nu.

A travers le fils et le père, Norman Mailler nous livre l'une des plus violentes critiques de la société américaine. Il l'assassine sous ses mots et sous les actions du père et du fils durant cette partie de chasse carrément obscène (d'où les titres).
Mailler exhibe la mentalité profonde selon lui du citoyen américain. Cette mentalité étant la cause de l'intervention des États-Unis au Vietnam . Mailler nous montre le coté bestial de l'homme. Ce coté qui dort en nous, qui ne demande qu'a être réveillé. Massacrant.
Il nous oblige alors à réfléchir sur le comportement et la mentalité de ses héros. Et nous demander en quoi sommes nous si différent des héros du livres qui retombent dans une animalité effrayante. D'ailleurs Mailler livre sa vision de l'aigle américain : "Le plus cruel et le plus abject des charognards.
Brûlot politique, brûlot anti-chasse, Pourquoi sommes-nous au Vietnam? a plusieurs faces.

Pourquoi sommes-nous au Vietnam? est violent oui, violent dans l'écriture, violent dans le récit, violent dans les personnages mais aussi violent parce qu'il est vrai. Et c'est ça qui est le plus troublant et le plus inquiétant. D'ailleurs nous y étions nous aussi au Vietnam.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,017 reviews663 followers
November 1, 2012

So I was going through my 'how many books by specific authors have you read' list here on GR and I discovered, to my surprise, that Mailer was number 3. It makes sense, I guess, pound for pound, since he did write more than...Saul Bellow, for one. And I've read a lot of his work.

Skimming the list of Mailer stuff, I realized that this wasn't on there. Well now, I'll be damned if I spent good time on this one without having it properly listed, so here it is.

I read it back in high school in the full first blush of my Mailer discovery and all the weird, kooky, horrible, wonderful and occasionally brilliant things he said and did. We were studying Vietnam in history class and I thought I might read this and get extra credit.

Well...I didn't know what I was in for! This is pretty scabrous, brutal, and kind of ridiculous. I get the whole hunting trip is satiric microcosm of the war and America's gung-ho, macho attitude towards it but seriously, it's so full of buggy, wiggy jive and Mailer's self-conscious preoccupation with being a hipster outlaw (I mean, Come On Already, We Got It) that the social criticism gets sodden with Mailer's obsterperous avant-garditude.

Here's the thing: I LOVE the fact that he wanted to pull off a baldly allegorical, leftist criticism of the war, I LOVE that this the way he wanted to do it and I do think that America has this macho hangup with proving how tough we are all the time, much like dudes on a hunting trip, etc.

I also, especially, LOVE the brazenness of the title- I think more authors should get in the ring like this and name their books something as draw-the-line aggressive and overtly political. It beats beating around the bush with "If You're Not Yet Like Me" and "This Is Where I Leave You" and "I'm So Precious and Apologetic"- ok, I made that last one up, but still...you get the point.

I love how the title just grabs you and shouts out what it has to say clearly (obviously) but also leads the reader (and potential book-buyer, let's not kid ourselves here- all's fair in love, war, steel cage matches, and literary commerce) to start thinking...'huh, why the dickens ARE we in Vietnam?'...and thus the Brechtian effect is on.

But the book, qua book? Nah. Two stars, no more.

The estimable Brian remarked, wisely and wittily, "sometimes I like Mailer for his bad books more than his good ones"...a-friggin'-men to that, podner. At least you can see the ragged glory of his trying and failing...flailing????
Profile Image for sniksnak.
24 reviews3 followers
May 29, 2020
First, I want to say how much I've enjoyed Mr. Mailer's books through the years. I knew his stance on Vietnam and had put off reading this one since I was a teenager when the book was published. I remember my father discussing this book with one of his buddies. I didn't want to read it then. I'm sorry now that eventually I did get around to it.
Second, I absolutely hated this book. The profound obscene profanity in practically every sentence alone was such a turnoff. I thought the worst books I've ever read were Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre. Wrong. This is the absolute worst.
But ... as they say, different strokes for different folks. 😳
Profile Image for Brian Washines.
38 reviews
March 4, 2023
There was this movie called "Art School Confidential" where John Malkovich's character, an art professor, makes a good analogy about derivativeness. "He is attempting to achieve the impossible. He is trying to sing in his own voice using someone else's vocal cords."

Mailer's career is rife with moments of being uncertain of his identity to where he sometimes bided off the myriad examples of his time. None more striking than here, the equivalent of a band releasing an album of cover songs so close to the originals in execution you wondered at times what the point of it was. Mailer didn't hide his admiration of William S. Burroughs and his methods but I much prefer Mailer being Mailer even if it doesn't quite resonate with the readership at large. At this point, however, I thought Mailer was a bit too seasoned a writer of both fiction and nonfiction to be experimental but better here than his post-"Harlot's Ghost" era I guess.
Profile Image for Valerie.
406 reviews23 followers
January 18, 2021
I love Vietnam literature, but this one was pretty awful. It almost felt as if the 18 year old narrator took a bunch of English classes all at once and decided to use every single style and form of writing there is to create this book.
Not for me, but still a book worth reading if you’re waaayyyy into Vietnam lit.
Profile Image for Austin Gaines.
109 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2017
It was basically Burroughs filtered through the voice of a rich Texas teenager. It's about some rich Dallas oil barons and their kids hunting grizzly bears in Alaska. But written in some gonzo rant style. Other than then the sons getting sent to Vietnam at the end, I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with Vietnam. Unless you read way into it, which you shouldn't. I think the forward said that the author wanted to write about the characters in Vietnam but didn't make it that far and just let the book end because he didn't feel like writing the characters anymore. Anyway. It was some craziness. I've never read anything by this dude before. But I doubt he wrote anything this fried ever again. He wrote an Ali vs Foreman book that I may try out in the future.
Profile Image for Patrick.
563 reviews
March 9, 2011
I did not like this book. I thought his stream of consciousness style distracted from the main theme, if in fact there was a main theme. I also think that the cuss words and sexual words also were present for embellishment purposes and thus did not forward the story line. Having said this, I did enjoy the 10% of the book that dealt with man's primal instincts in nature. I enjoyed the description on how man senses are heightened and he truly feels alive when he is in nature and faced with the unknown. Also, we also see how DJ feels like a man alive when he goes hunting and goes after the hunted animal.

Reading this book, I now understand the reason why people of Reagan's generation did not particularly like the sixties and the American cultural revolution it ushered. The narrator if one is to be believed represents the stereotypical disgruntled sixties adolescent who is on drugs really is as vacuous as the society that he is purportedly against. I think the sixties served an introspective period in America that stated that we have to think before we act and actually have a sense of purpose besides the material yearnings of man. But, whereas the pre-sixties America was concerned only with producing without thinking what the conscience, 60's & 70's America was basically noticed that society was not right but did nothing constructive individually to correct it (Hippies). So to Reagan's generation, sixties people looked like people who were whiners and did nothing to be self-reliant and contribute to society. While people in the sixties looked at Reagan's generation as vacuous automatons who just did and provided materially but did not have moral purpose to what they were doing.
45 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2013
This book was my first introduction to Monsieur Mailer. His writing reflects the grit and guts of an American original. Mailer was the raconteur par excellence of the outrageous. At turns farcical and absurd this novel gets in your face and stays there. Part parody, part satire and an all out anti-war tour de force it is worth re-reading. Mailer took important chances and pushed his prose to the limit here. It spills off the page. The pacing is full speed ahead non-stop frantic. That along with a plethora of profane prose makes for a jarring but exhilirating ride.
Profile Image for Wally.
50 reviews7 followers
May 31, 2007
You've got to finish the novel to understand its brilliance.
Profile Image for Andrew Figueiredo.
289 reviews8 followers
January 16, 2022
In light of Norman Mailer's cancellation, I decided to read the Mailer book on my shelf. I'm not a huge fan of his books (I prefer his snarky political journalist work), and this one was certainly a step down from The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History. This tale of a hunting expedition in Alaska had very little to do with Vietnam, minus highlighting what Mailer saw as the mentalities that led us there. I understand that Mailer was transgressive, but this was just too crass and rambling--borderline unreadable at times. The stream of consciousness writing style sounds like its narrator is on drugs. Very strong ones. Not a fan of this book.
Profile Image for Scott Johnston.
96 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2023
Not sure how I feel about this one. I found it a little hard to get through and it took me quite a while to warmup to the writing style, and even then I found it grating. Provides a pretty brutal rebuke of American masculinity and you can feel through his characterization how the American psyche drives itself into wars and conflict. Interesting imagery of corporate Americans using extremely overpowered weaponry and helicopters to track down and kill animals just for bragging rights back home. Unique read as the style is so different but definitely not a favorite of mine even if I found the book intriguing.
Profile Image for Emilio Amaro.
Author 161 books9 followers
February 24, 2021
My god what an absurd journey.

At first I loved the psychotic word vomit descending from the pages. As you go further long the lunatic wailings from whatever typewriter birthed this get less stimulating.

Eh,meh. Still goes without saying this is tablets capturing the word of God compared to what’s published today. I heard Hillary Clinton is currently “co-writing” 👻 a political thriller. Crazy to imagine a time when books were so powerful there were opposing forces that felt a need to burn or censor them.
Profile Image for Julio Pino.
902 reviews40 followers
April 24, 2022
O, parable! This novel of an Alaskan bear hunt has absolutely nothing to do with the Viet Nam War, until you consider that in 1967, with US involvement in Viet Nam raging at its height, a tale of big men with big guns chasing after huge bears had absolutely everything to do with Viet Nam. Mailer is exploring, by way of metaphor, how Supernation got caught up in a jungle war that was both immoral and unwinnable. There are echoes here of William Faulkner's "The Bear" and its denunciation of Yankee power run amok.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Bumiller.
566 reviews21 followers
July 8, 2020
I'm sure I'm not giving enough credit to the larger metaphor in this book but that's because it's just awful. Is this representative of Mailer's writing as a whole? If so, I'm never coming back. Pitifully bad. Just yuck.
280 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2020
this book sucks and is borderline unreadable. gets three stars by virtue of being written in a really engaging authorial voice that quickly turns grating and by featuring the term "deadass" in like 1967, wild.
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