Richard Bradford combs through Mailer's personal letters - to lovers and editors - which appear to be a rehearsal for his career as a shifty literary narcissist, and which shape the characters of one of the most widely celebrated World War II novels.
Tough Guy encompasses all other serious biographies such as those by Peter Manso, J Michael Lennon and Carl Rollyson, and Bradford is careful to cite all his references. It is smoothly done. But if this lively biography ends up being a damning speech for the prosecution, well, pugilistic old Norman is simply receiving a dose of his own medicine.
Bradford’s contention is that Mailer’s obstreperous life was the novel he didn’t have the time or the talent to produce. It’s a flippant misjudgment ... Bradford... after spending a few pages on Mailer’s war novel The Naked and the Dead dismisses all of his subsequent work, which he variously calls unreadable, ludicrous, incomprehensible, atrocious and hilariously terrible; critics who disagree are accused of writing gibberish. This kind of 'wet job' – a CIA euphemism for assassination – is Bradford’s speciality ... Even at his maddest, Mailer deserves a better memorial.
This book is appropriately action-packed. The way Bradford accumulates detail effectively reflects Mailer’s protean, and too-frequently nihilistic, character ... On a production note, words are occasionally dropped from the text, and on page 189... the pioneering linguist Noam Chomsky is called Norman. Tough Guy is well-written and lurid, its subject a cautionary tale.