four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
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0

A-A Ticket to the Circus.epsNorris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer's sixth wife and the mother of his eighth child, worked as a model and published two novels, but her greatest claim to fame remains her long-term relationship with the notorious writer.

The Topic: It was an extremely unlikely love story: they met at a party in small-town Arkansas in 1975, and within hours were rolling around on her living room floor. A month later, beautiful 26-year-old divorcée Norris Church (née Barbara Jean Davis) quit her teaching job, sold her house, and handed her young son over to her parents so that she could join the famously volatile and unprepossessing novelist in New York City. Norman Mailer, twice her age, was still legally married to his fourth wife and had just fathered his seventh child with a longtime mistress, but, despite affairs, arguments, and illness, the strikingly mismatched couple, wed in 1980, remained together until Norman's death in 2007.
Random House. 432 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400067947

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Norris Church Mailer writes as though she's sharing confidences with girlfriends, complete with toe-curling, too-much-information detail. ... By all rights, we should hiss at the blow-up-doll beauty who latches onto the aging celebrity. But now, a woman of a certain age herself, she writes with a wry, refreshing ‘what was I thinking?' hindsight." Andrea Simakis

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"As one would expect, it was a wild ride, full of wonder and heartbreak. Now, in her entertaining, well-composed memoir, she reveals what it was like for a smart, gutsy woman to subsume herself to a legendary jerk who was as incorrigible and irresistible in life as he was in his art." Ariel Gonzalez

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's Ms. Mailer's own plucky and sometimes sentimental autobiography, written in the lemony sweet-tea mode of Southern novelists like Lee Smith. ... A Ticket to the Circus is a love story, and you won't read this memoir without feeling pangs of jealousy: these two lived large, sun-drenched lives in almost every regard." Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It's not so much that she gives readers unexpected insights into one of the literary giants of his day--the book does little to dispel the image of Mailer as a narcissistic hothead with redeeming streaks of cuddliness and charm--but rather that, in her own indirect way, she shows exactly what type of woman could tolerate and at least partly subdue such a king-size corkscrew of a man. ... Her voice, wobbly at first, is without a doubt her best ally--easy and unpretentious, uncomplaining and warm." Jennifer Senior

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"[Their 33-year marriage] provides more than enough material for A Ticket to the Circus, a memoir that's candid and poignant, filled with joy and humor, sex and heartbreak. ... It's less about him as a writer than him as loving father and husband." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The tone of A Ticket to the Circus is light, intelligent, often ironic. ... If you want to be both edified and amused, you really can't do better than A Ticket to the Circus. The title is apt." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

This candid, entertaining memoir proves that Norman Mailer wasn't the only talented writer in the family. Norris unveils her life story with warmth, wit, and grit, despite some occasionally precious prose. While a few critics were disturbed by Norris's stated willingness to stifle her individuality and ambitions to please her temperamental husband, her frankness in sharing many of the grim and often humiliating particulars won them over, and she provides plenty of juicy details about Norman and his contemporaries. Skimming over his body of work, Norris paints an affectionate, if unappealing, portrait of Mailer as husband and father, and A Ticket to the Circus is a love story, as well as "both guilty pleasure and good read" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Supplemental Reading

A-Windchill Summer.epsWindchill Summer | Norris Church Mailer (2000): In Sweet Valley, Arkansas, Cherry and her best friend, Baby, must deal with the death of their best friend the summer before their senior year of high school. Critics praised Mailer's debut work, set against the Vietnam War, as a warmhearted, captivating coming-of-age novel.