Why Are We in Vietnam?
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Why Are We in Vietnam?

by Norman Mailer

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“It is impossible to walk away from this novel without being sharply reminded of the fact that Norman Mailer is a writer of extraordinary ability.” —Chicago Tribune

“A shattering social commentary . . . The book is a tour de force, a treatise on human nature, society, and war in flip disguise.” —Dallas News

“A book of great integrity. All the odd qualities are here: Mailer's remarkable feeling for the sensory event, the detail, 'the way it was,' his power and energy.” —The New York Review of Books

“Original, courageous, and provocative.” —The New York Times

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.49(d)

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Why Are We in Vietnam?

A Novel

By Norman Mailer


Copyright © 1967 Norman Mailer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5489-5


"Well, now," said Mrs. Jethroe, the mother of this extraordinary late adolescent on the fast receding previous page, the one who calls himself D.J. (if you recalled) "well, now," said she, "what am I going to do with Ranald? He's as obscene as a barmaid and just as barmy. The boy needs to be spanked. I would just as soon spank a puma. He's evil," said Mrs. Jethroe to her psychiatrist, who is a Jewish fellow, nothing other, working his ass off in Dallas, which means so to speak that he must spend eight to ten clammy periods of fifty minutes each listening to Dallas matrons complain about the sexual habits of their husbands, all ex hot rodders, hunters, cattlemen, oil riggers, corporation gears and insurance finks, zap! Well, like every one of these bastards (as Mrs. Jeth — call her Death-row Jethroe — might say when her breath is big! like the bottom of a burnt-out bourbon barrel) well, every one of these bastards has the sexual peculiarities of red-blooded men, which is to say that one of them can't come unless he's squinting down a gunsight, and the other won't produce unless his wife sticks a pistol up his ass — that man is of course a cop. If the psychiatrist wasn't such a fink and such a nice Jewish fellow type as to be working for the general good and wheel of society, and if he wasn't afraid of drilling a little career-and-cancer piss right into the heart of Texas, he would write this book about the ejaculatory jump habits of cops, big ass Southern redneck cops all bullwhipped and bullshitted up into putteez, son, they come more ways — I froth at the mouth, said the killer, but don't think it's spit. Well, what's to say, D.J.'s mother, Death-row Jethroe, is the prettiest little blonde you ever saw (looks like a draw between young Katherine Anne Porter and young Clare Boothe Luce, whew) all perfume snatchy poo, appears thirty-five, is forty-five, airs, humors, curl to her mouth, half Texas ass accent, half London wickedness, trill and thrill, she's been traveling around the world, Heartache House in Bombay and Freedom House in Bringthatpore, shit, she's been getting cunt-tickled and fucked by all the Class I Dongs in Paris and London, not to mention the upper dedicated pricks of Rome and Italy while her hus, big daddy Rusty Jethroe, is keeping up the corporation end all over the world including Dallas, Big D, Tex. That's some end, son, Big N we call it. Mum's first name is Alice. They found her vagina in North Carolina and part of her gashole in hometown Big D. Why? Why was her parts metaphorically blasted? Because, man, she used a dynamite stick for a phallus. You try that sometime for lots of hymen. D.J.'s father, Big Daddy, old Rusty, has got the dynamite. He don't come, he explodes, he's a geyser of love, hot piss, shit, corporation pus, hate, and heart, baby, he blasts, he's Texas willpower, hey yay!

Does this idyll of family life whet your curiosity, flame your balls, or sour your spit? Don't argue, Alice Hallie Lee Jethroe is speaking to her Doc, Clam Fink, the Texas Jew, actually his name is Leonard Levin Fichte Rothenberg, pronounced by all big mind Texans as Linnit Live'n Fixit Rottenbug.

"Well, now Lionhard," says Hallelujah Death-row, D.J.'s sweet blond mother to Dr. Fixit, that little ole rottenbug, "will you jes take a fix on what dear Ranald has to say about everything? It's enough to make a mother wipe up Aunt Jemima's puke. For I love him like a jewel even if he is a thief. But he's out of his mind. Poor sad little fellow. He's so delicate and beautiful even if he is barmy as a barmaid."

"Hallie, let's adjust our sense of the real," says Dr. Hebrew Hairy. "Ranald's delicacy and beauty are memory engravings, perhaps are chromosomal etchings, RNA, DNA, RNA, DNA, one for the left eye, one for the right."

"RNA, DNA, RNA, DNA," says Hallelujah.

"The facts," says Fichte, "are these: Your son, Ranald, is six feet one at the age of eighteen, and is considered highly attractive by his social compeers, as well as mean and vicious."

"He read the Marquis de Sade at the age of fifteen."

"And the drug addict William Burroughs, whom personally I can't see as a talent, I mean give me a hot pastrami sandwich, is now his hero."

"Do you mean the Hot Pastrami, Live'n Fixit?" asks Hallelujah.

"No, sir, I mean William Burroughs. Adjust your sense of the real, Alice Hallie Lee Jethroe, the time has come to program out your attitudes. I saw Ranald at your request, he was recalcitrant, charming, gracious, anti -Semitic, morally anesthetized, and smoldering with presumptive violence, a host of incense, I mean incest fixes, murder configurations, suicide sets, disembowelment diagrams and diabolism designs, mandalas! 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."

"He has high-breed vectors all rights," says Hallelujah, "he's got the cunningest ancestry, in fact, cause we're on my mother's side from the Norloins."

"New Orleans?"

"Yis, from Norlins, the Norlins Frenchy Montesquious and the Bat Fartsmotherers." But seeing that Levin Fichte is living on her word, she just knocks over a bottle of one of his urine specimens, adieu albumen! and says, "Mon Doo Ginsberg, you're sure full of shit for a doctor, don't y'know there are no fine Southern families called Fartsmotherer? Lord knows we ain't that fucking stupid, why even British county stock wouldn't be called Fartsmotherer, maybe Assknocking, but not the other, you can't analyze me Living Fichte if you don't know things like that, oh poo I wish you was an Italianate Jew, all earthy and Levantine and suave and had a cunt-tickler of a mustache, instead of your clammy cold Lithuanian brow, what are you, a Talmud hokum? speak up, ass, I just wish you was good enough to kiss my sweet perfumed powdered old pooty-toot, hey Linnit? am I getting out my egressions now?"

"I would not call them aggressions so much as identity crises," said Linnit.

"Oh, poo, let me tell you about the Montesquious. Half-Portuguese, half-French, all that hot crazy blood packed one-quarter into me, for the other half of mah mother was just straight Arkansas mule, the Mulies, why they the richest family in Arkansas then, hot out of Peezer, Arkansas, and they used rat paper for tar paper on the Chic Sale, that's how benighted was their latrine, army folk of course, the MacArthurs used to kiss their ass. And my daddy, well he was just a lover of a husband to my ma, and he must have had a dick on him like a derrick, do I shock you, Dr. Jew?"

"To my cornplasters."

"Oh, Linnit, you'll be the death of me yet. Listen to this old hen cackle. Well, Daddy was Indian for sure, and he had a personal odor like hot rocks in the sun which is in me all mixed with the fine sauces of Franco-Portuguese Montesquiou rut — I mean you should smell my armpits, noxious to some, a knockout to others, I keep them perfumed of course, we want no barmaid's fatal scent on Hallie Jethroe, so I wash, Dr. Rothenberg, three times a day, I don't want nothing but a soupçon of my good sweet crazy full-blooded woman's scent on the breeze off my knees, just enough for to keep the breed alive, talk of high-breed vectors, well, my own sweet husband, Big Daddy, David Rutherford Jethroe Jellicoe Jethroe, Rusty, is just as high breed as you want, I can't even follow Rusty's family, they're all marshals, and bastards and cowboys, and one desperado, and one railroad tycoon, and one professor at Harvard, first Texas professor they ever had in Upper Clam City, near Clamsville, which is what I call Harvard, now Linnit, you're a Harvard man, tell me straight and clear what I am going to do with Ranald, he's insane, that boy, and he looks just like George Hamilton the actor, who I think is Instant Heaven, he's so brood-looking, yes, there's something Hebrew about Ranald, he's so big and dark and mysterious for eighteen, and he goes all the way back to Egypt you just know unlike you, dear Jew, you Talmud hokum, you clammy Have-it grit, I suppose I now have to pony up my fifty dollars for the hour."

"Madame, you owe me eleven hundred and fifty."

"You'll have to bust a nut to get it, Rottenbug."

"I'll torture you, I love torturing gentile females. All that white buttermilk flesh. Yum, yum. Yum, yum, yum."

Hey, hey, they really talk that way? That little blond lady, Hallie-perfume and powder on the poo — she talk that way? And Rottenbug going yum yum yum — is he out of his fucking skull? Wait and see. Nobody's got any OK patience any more, just cannibals asking for chocolate on their stick — how the hell do you know what Hallie's saying to Linnit and Fixit saying back? Wait and see? You know what they're doing. They're talking about Tex, Tex Hyde, Gottfried "Texas" Hyde Junior, that's D.J.'s best friend, and know what, get that drop of cream off your jeans before you grow hair in your hand, this is the pitch, Tex is half-German and half-Indian on his father's side, Redskin and Nazi all in one paternal blood, and his mother, well, bless his mother, Tex Hyde's mother is jes old rawhide Texas ass family running back thru fifty-two shacks where in each shack the beans in the pot have been stuck on blacky inside side of the pot for six weeks — those beans look like gravel, Marshal Bean — yeah, Tex's mother runs fifty-two shacks right back to the Alamo where all old saddlesore real Texas ass families run back to, why lick the scab on LBJ's knee if one-tenth of all the Dallas ass families that go back to the Alamo was really there, they'd have all drowned in shit they were so congested and Santa Ana could have thrown his marijuana seed on the top and there'd be a forest of hemp now right in the heart of Texas. Which is a favorite theory of the voice you hear now submitted which is that the best hash and cannabis is grown on fertilizer of human shit, who is there to disprove an honest man's folklore?

Well, Tex Hyde, he's a mother fucker, sell you pot was grown on human shit, and he nothing but D.J.'s best friend. And they are terrible together. Listen to Halleloo. Her tone is full of hell right now, Line It With Hot Bugs is shifting in horror in his seat, cause Halleloo is talking in her bitchy boozy voice which means don't come near unless you can steer your prick like a whip and French tickler all in one, worm! us women know which man has got the spring and who and which is the unfortunate dead ass, here is her words, "Tex Hyde is the son of an undertaker, I mean think of that, a Montesquiou Jellicoe Jethroe a-whopping around with a Kraut mortician's offspring, and all that bastard Indian Hyde blood in the background, firewater and dirty old Engine oil, Indians unless they're descended from my daddy's line, and never you mind what it was, don' ask if it's Navaho, Apache, or any of those Jew shit questions, you anthropologist manqué, you fuckless wonder listening to the sex'l habits of all us mule-ass Texans, ought to get your ears wiped out Dr. Fink Lenin Rodzianko whateva your name is, an Indian don't tell the secret of his name in a hurry to strangers like you, Clam Grits from Harvard Square, why, honey, that Tex Hyde don't have Eenyen blood like my daddy and my Rusty's daddy's daddy, no, it's just the sort of dirty vile polluted cesspool Eenyen blood like Mexican — you know just a touch of that Latin slicky shit in it, vicious as they come, and mated up, contemplez-vous, to fatty Bavarian oonshick and poonshick jawohl furor lemme kiss your dirty socks my leader, can you imagine? the filthiest of the Indians and the slimiest of red hot sexyass Nazis fucking each other, mating and breeding to produce Tex Hyde who grows up in his daddy's big booming business which is stuffing corpses and doing God knows what to their little old pithy bowels and their dropped stomachs and whatever else corpses got which must be plenty or why pay thousands of dollars for a funeral unless it's a fumigation, hey Tonto? and that boy growing up there comes out like a malevolent orchid in a humus pile, or a black panther, that's what he is, black panther with all his black panther piss, I'm dreaming of him, Linnit, and so is my son, the black puma, he's got my son who's just as beautiful as George Hamilton and more clean-cut swearing by him, the puma and the panther, I think they took the vow of blood, cut their thumbs and ran 'em around the rim of some debutante's pussy, after the way these kids now live there ain't much left for them but to gang fuck tastefully wouldn't you say, speak up, Linnit."

"Now, Hallie, I know you're not going to listen to me."

"But I am, my dear. I fully intend to, Linnit?"

"Yes, milady."

"Tell me I've been ladylike. I know I haven't. I know I've been outré and spouting great clouds of baloney from inner space, I mean you might think my language was the proper vocabulary for a roughneck or a driller, but I adore you, Linnit, cause you got a kind Jewish heart and I always said when Hitler killed the Jews, half the kindness went out of the world."

"Now tell me he shoulda killed the other half."

"Heh heh, heh heh. Gallows humor, Linnit."

"Hallie, are you saying you've got to separate those boys?"

"I know, I know. But they're stuck to each other like ranch dogs in a fuck. Hunting together, playing football together on the very same team, riding motorcycles together, holding hands while they ride, studying karate together, I bet they can't even get their rocks off unless they're put -putting in the same vaginal slime, I hope at least Ranald has got the taste and sentiment to be putting it in the young lady's vagina rather than going up her dirt-track where old Tex Hyde belongs (after all those bodies he helped his fat growing rich daddy embalm, baby) but kiss the lint from my navel, Linnit, a mother can't even be sure of that anymore, because, tiens, mon amour, I even heard of a debutante knock-up case where the boy who had to accept the onus of parenthood was one who had addressed himself to the fore, his buddy's lawyer got him to admit that cardinal fact by the following examination, 'Would you, Son, be so filthy and so foul as to address yourself to a young lady's dirt track.' 'Of course I wouldn't,' said this idiot called Son, 'do you think I'm a pervert?' 'Well, my client is, would, and did,' said the lawyer, 'so you are the proud papa, the Brains rest,' end of case.

"Take the undertaker out of it," said Linnit, "that's what disturbs your sense of peers and social compeers. A mortician is at a social disadvantage in stable structurification of society, but it's not to be calibrated on a final scale. If Tex Hyde were the son of a normal occupation father, for instance if Gottfried Hyde Senior was straight corporation exec like Rusty."

"No, no, no, Rottenbug, you're thinking like a tick again."

"If the boys were the same in the back room, so to speak, sotto voce," said Lenin Fink, "in the easy come and go, the rhodomontade — if you permit me — of similar breedings and backings, would you then object to the highly cathected vectors of their friendship?"

"Bless you, but I would."

"Tell me why, pie."

"Because Tex grew up a undertaker's son, fool! plunging his hands into dead people's vitals, picking up through his fingertips all sorts of black occult steamy little grimes of things, swamp music and black lightning and soundless thunder — purple wonders, it's like sleeping the night in a rotten old stump — who knows what song the maggots sing, and what aromatic intuitions inflame the brain. Herbs are the nerve to a fearsome underworld — listen, baby, I didn't get fucked by Aleister Crowley for nothing, those passes at the Black Masses," said Hallie, putting a gloved finger up to her dear chin — she is incidentally now lying her ass off because she's too young to know Aleister Crowley, but she's like her son, D.J., she's got to brag, better believe it.

Well, this has gone on long enough. Cause you ought to know who had produced this material. Color it rainbow. This has been D.J. presenting to you the private scene of his mother being psychoanalyzed by that clammy little fink, and if the illusion has been conveyed that my mother, D.J.'s own mother, talks the way you got it here, well little readster, you're sick in your own drool, because my mother is a Southern lady, she's as elegant as an oyster with powder on its ass, she don't talk that way, she just thinks that way. Do we understand each other now, son? You've had fun long enough. The serious shit soon starts. You're contending with a genius, D.J. is his name, only American alive who could outtalk Cassius Clay, that's lip, duck the blip, Orlando, it's right on your radar screen.


Excerpted from Why Are We in Vietnam? by Norman Mailer. Copyright © 1967 Norman Mailer. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Among Norman Mailer's other achievements are The Naked and the Dead, The Armies of the Night, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1968, and The Executioner's Song, which won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize.

Brief Biography

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
B.S., Harvard University, 1943; Sorbonne, Paris, 1947-48

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