Norman Mailer fused fact and fiction to create indelible portraits of such figures as Marilyn Monroe, Gary Gilmore, and Lee Harvey Oswald. In The Gospel According to the Son, Mailer reimagines, as no other modern author has, the key character of Western history. Here is Jesus Christ’s story in his own words: the discovery of his divinity and the painful, powerful journey to accepting and expressing it, “as if I were a man enclosing another man within.” In its brevity and piercing simplicity, it may be Mailer’s most accessible, direct, and heartfelt work.
Praise for The Gospel According to the Son
“Quietly penetrating . . . [Norman Mailer’s] gospel is written in a direct, rather relaxed English that yet has an eerie, neo-Biblical dignity.”—John Updike, The New Yorker
“A book of considerable intellectual force . . . The writer’s powerful mind works in a specialized way, not by theological argumentation but by telling or retelling a story.”—The New York Review of Books
“Challenges readers on the religious right and the atheist left with equally rich interpretive tasks.”—The Dallas Morning News
“An informed and believable work of fiction . . . of what may have been going through the mind of Jesus during his epic ministry.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Praise for Norman Mailer
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”—The New York Times
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”—The New Yorker
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”—The Washington Post
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”—Life
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”—The New York Review of Books
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”—Chicago Tribune
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”—The Cincinnati Post
Only a novelist as daring as Mailer would attempt to retell the story of Jesus in Jesus's own words. There are reasons for this, paramount among them the difficulty, perhaps impossibility, of plumbing the psychology of, and creating an internal voice for, a man meant to be divine as well as human. And the Jesus whose soul Mailer bares in his brave, beautiful and ambitious new novel is meant to be both, for Mailer revises the Gospels only partially here. His Jesus is the Son of God, a Jewish miracle worker who speaks with God and debates the Devil, who is crucified for his teachings and who, three days later, rises from the dead. To tell Jesus's story, Mailer adopts biblical-style prose that works powerfully well: "In those days," he begins, "I was the one who came down from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the River Jordan." Mailer is brilliant in depicting the human side of Jesus--his confusion and pride as he comes to understand who he is; his love for sinners and hatred of the pious; his terror at his impending fate and, above all, his grapplings with the limits of his powers. True to Mailer's theology, expressed in earlier works, of an anthropomorphic God at war with other Powers, this Jesus and his Father can know defeat. But this philosophical stance proves an aesthetic weakness, for by presenting Jesus's martyrdom as "debacle and disaster," in effect a twist of fate, Mailer's telling loses the force of inexorable destiny that exalts the telling of the Gospels. Less persuasive still is Mailer's attempt to represent Jesus's divinity. To do so, he most often relies on a mundane literalism. He learns too heavily on the miracle-working, and his presentation of the Last Supper lacks any sense of mystical mystery. His treatment of the Resurrection and what follows is flat as a board, and full of splinters, for here he forces Jesus to become his mouthpiece for this theological opinion and that. But if this novel is partially a failure, it is a great and profoundly moving one that is also a triumph. Its penetration into Jesus's human heart rivals Dostoyevsky for depth and insight. Its recreation of the world through which Jesus walked is as real as blood. Ultimately, Mailer convinces, more than any writer before him, that for Jesus the man it could have been just like this; and that is, in itself, some sort of literary miracle.