If you hated this novel, I would get it. I think even Norman Mailer would get it. But I really enjoyed it and really expected something very different, and given that I decided to pick this novel up after reading some journalism pieces of Mailer’s from about the same time period I should have not expected this novel to be any different from what it is. So, the subtitle tells you it’s not really a novel — history as a novel, the Novel as history. But it is. But it’s not In Cold Blood or anything like that. It’s actually a lot more like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if you replaced drugs for whiskey, and replace paranoia with navel gazing. Mailer is sent to cover the march on the Pentagon, and does this by starting and ending where he’s best, talking about himself. He’s trying less to capture the scene on the ground, though he does this very well at times, and more try to capture what it’s like to be a 45 year old man, who thinks of himself as more or less still with it, and even possibly a thought-leader, and trying to make sense of his role in this event, if any. He gives a rousing, if completely nonsensical speech at a reading the night before the march. He’s arrested alongside protestors and other writers in the Pentagon, and he’s shocked to find out that he’s actually a lot more pissed about how the arrest is handled, how his books are talked about in his presence, and how he’s talked about in his presence, than the actual details of the protests. That’s not to say he doesn’t care, but only that when he’s in the moment, it’s hard to separate his immediate moments from a bigger picture. He can’t erase ego no matter how much he doesn’t try.
The book is drenched in irony, and at times hilarious, but it’s not a very funny book overall. It’s not really a satire or anything, but in not being able to get out of his own head, he leads down a path of self-absorption that is almost admirable, and definitely impressive. But like I said, I would also totally get it if you hated this novel.