The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America

The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America

by Norman Mailer
     
 

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“Questions are posed,” writes Norman Mailer, “in the hope they will open into richer insights, which in turn will bring forth sharper questions.” In this series of conversations, John Buffalo Mailer, 27, poses a series of questions to his father, challenging the reflections and insights of the man who has dominated and defined much of

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Overview

“Questions are posed,” writes Norman Mailer, “in the hope they will open into richer insights, which in turn will bring forth sharper questions.” In this series of conversations, John Buffalo Mailer, 27, poses a series of questions to his father, challenging the reflections and insights of the man who has dominated and defined much of American letters for the past sixty years.

Their wide-ranging discussions take place over the course of a year, beginning in July 2004. Set against the backdrop of George W. Bush’s re-election campaign and the war in Iraq, each considers what it means to live in America today. John asks his father to look back to World War II, and explore the parallels that can—and cannot—be drawn between that time and our current post-9/11 consciousness.

As their conversations develop, the topics shift from the political to the personal to the political again, as they duck and weave around one another. They explore their shared admiration of boxing and poker, the nature of marriage and love, television, movies, writing, and what it means to be a part of this extraordinary family.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dialogues" is a generous term for the discussions, in which the 82-year-old Norman Mailer answers questions from his 27-year-old son on subjects ranging from the topical-the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, corporate culture-to the more general-boxing, cards, women (his famous, quiet and insidious misogyny is revealed as that of one who has been married six times and claims to "love women"). Dialogue implies equality, but this is clearly the "great man" handing down his truths to an adoring audience. Each man represents liberal ideas characteristic of his generation, and while it's easy for any like-minded reader to agree with much of what they say, the book doesn't add anything new to the larger political discourse. The thoughts offered are not nuanced enough to get at the heart of any issue. The structure doesn't help things along: small chapters deal with individual themes ("The Problem of Leadership," "Four More Years?"), thus separating what should have been unified. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The 81-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning Norman Mailer and his 27-year-old son self-indulge in banal banter-the title is a more fitting reference to the book's content than to corporate America, the reference intended by the elder Mailer. The younger Mailer lobs softball questions to his father, who expounds on the dated issue of John Kerry's chances in the 2004 presidential election and expresses his rage at the Bush administration without offering any new insights. Each dialog is a separate chapter, the majority only two or three pages long. One, a monolog by the elder Mailer, turns out to be a speech he gave about a year ago. Throughout, John Buffalo Mailer limits his comments but does inform us that he likes the card game Texas Hold 'em because "I find the balance between luck, skill, and bluffing a useful metaphor for life." There are enough "F--- you's" sprinkled throughout to give the book the feel of a frat-house bull session. The only good piece in the book is the one on boxing, and that was first published elsewhere (as were a few of the other dialogs). Included here, it's still not enough to stop this book from being TKO'd. Not recommended.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Reflections, rants and racy ruminations by the octogenarian author of The Naked and the Dead and other gems of American literature, interspersed with occasional questions and comments from his 27-year-old son, who is wise enough to know which of Mailer's thoughts are of greater interest. Many of the pieces in this eclectic collection are edited transcriptions of conversations between the Mailers; a few are previously published essays and speeches. NM and JBM have a lot on their minds: the current Bush White House; how many hard punches boxer Jose Torres took in his career; 9/11; Iraq; fascism; the number of gods there are in the universe. Their exchanges are generally genial, though Mailer pere sometimes reminds Mailer fils that he is young and just doesn't get it. The only conversation that contains any real friction is about marijuana, a subject upon which both men claim authority. The conversations are chockablock with NM's wit, certitude and, at times, gender cluelessness. He observes that the Bush administration holds great faith in the stupidity of the American people, that the feckless Democrats deserved to lose in 2004, that sex with many women is instructive. He fires again across the bow of New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, whom he once called "a one-woman kamikaze." Here, he modifies the kamikaze part: "They, at least, were brave, whereas she may not have the outdoor guts of a pissant." He makes some striking comments about writing, crediting Hemingway for teaching him about the "tensile strength of a sentence," and some provocative ones about existentialism and Sartre. Both father and son worry that the days of the serious American novel are over, leaving us withonly "the Big Empty."Norman remains a national treasure, and his fans must be grateful to his son for convincing the old man to sit down and answer a few questions. His answers are illuminating, annoying, amusing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781522637486
Publisher:
Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
12/06/2016
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Norman Mailer was born in 1923 and published his first book, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948. The Armies of the Night won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Mailer recieved another Pulitzer in 1980 for The Executioner's Song. He lives in Provincetown, MA, and Brooklyn, NY.
John Buffalo Mailer is an actor, screenwriter and journalist. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
Date of Birth:
January 31, 1923
Date of Death:
November 10, 2007
Place of Birth:
Long Branch, New Jersey
Education:
B.S., Harvard University, 1943; Sorbonne, Paris, 1947-48

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