The Naked And The Dead
Of all the Norman Mailer novels I've read, The Naked And The Dead is the one I probably enjoyed the least which surprised me. That isn't saying it is a bad novel, it isn't. I read it with mixed emotions for I am a big Mailer fan and this is the novel that put him on the literary map although he enjoyed greater successes later on with novels that won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.
At the time this novel came out, it was hailed as ground-breaking and maybe in the day it was with its treatment of a unit of men in the Pacific during WWII. I once read where Charles Laughton did a 400 plus page script of this book - it later was made into a movie - but honestly, I think the book could've been whittled down by at least half if not more and that is where I have my problem with this story.
In the novel, Mailer uses a technique called 'Time Machine' which are sections at the end of chapters that reveal a characters life before the war began. That may have seemed fresh half-a-century ago, I don't know. But what I do know is that it seemed out of place when I was reading it and frankly, I didn't care to know their pre-war lives. If Mailer had wanted me too then he failed in that quest.
Mailer's brilliant descriptive style that would put him on a pedestal later in life is given birth throughout the book. That word usage that Mailer did better than most writers keeps the story moving until the last 200-250 pages or so when the story takes off.
It is in the last half of the book that the story really captured me. The writing rose to a new level and the action was more explicit and descriptive. The characters quit being caricatures and came to live when the unit is sent to recon behind enemy lines on an occupied island. The emotions of the men, the tragedy of what befalls them, all bloom into animation during this part of the novel. Where before I had been struggling to keep my interest going on the story, I found myself anxious to explore what happened on the next page. I did think the ending was a little too 'neat' but that was in keeping in time with the day.
This would not be the first book of Norman Mailer's I would recommend. For that I might suggest Armies Of The Night; perhaps The Executioner's Song; maybe even Deer Park which I loved far more than the critics did. Mailer was a force in American ... indeed international artistic circles for decades. He ranks as one of America's great novelists. And I will let you in on a little trivia - he was the first person to autograph a book over the ocean using the internet. For all the his greatness and the reputation of this book though, I rate it 3 of 5 on my scale.