Book Review: A Ticket to the Circus

A Ticket to the Circus

Norris Church Mailer

Random House

432 pages

Norman Mailer is an iconic literary figure.  Regardless, I have never read a single one of his books (shameful, I know).  In fact, I really can’t tell you what enticed me to check this book out from my library.  I saw a snippet of it in Bookmarks magazine and I think I was hopeful that it would be reminiscent of Joyce Maynard’s memoir At Home in the World, about her affair with JD Salinger.  A Ticket to the Circus languished on my shelf for months though, as I kept renewing it over and over again, never quite sure if I would actually read it.  The determining fact was that Norris Mailer died last month.  An author doesn’t always have to die in order for me to finally go for it, but apparently that was the extra shove I needed in this case.

Norman Mailer was a playboy.  He liked women and made no bones about it, so when Norris met him in the mid 70s, she knew what she was dealing with.  She was literally half his age, and she left her home in Arkansas , where she was a divorced school teacher caring for her young son, to move to New York with Mailer.  She eventually became his sixth wife and fathered his last child, a boy named John Buffalo, in 1978.

The Mailers, in a sense, were like every married couple.  They had a deep founded love, but they also had their ups and downs, with Norris almost leaving Norman in the 90s after discovering that his philandering ways hadn’t stopped with his sixth wife.  Norris is brutally honest when it comes to detailing her marital issues with Norman , and she has no qualms about revealing her own discretions, which were an attempt to garner her husband’s attention.

There are also a lot of references to a lot of other well know public figures,

The Mailers

including my favorite, Bill Clinton.  Apparently Bill and Norris had their own little fling going on, before either Norman or Hillary entered the picture (or maybe Hillary was already in the picture—not sure that would have stopped Slick Willy!).  Because Norris met Bill in the mid 70s as well, it was fun to see his progression as a wet behind the ears congressman to eventual president.  The charm he is well known for was definitely effective way back when.

Sadly, Mailer passed away last month from cancer at the age of 61.  She made it very clear in her book though that she did not fear death.  At one point, Norman ’s mother is on the cusp of death when resuscitation efforts are successful.  She admonishes her family for their efforts, saying that she discovered she would be reunited with lost family and friends at death, and therefore wished to die.  Norris fully believed this, and for that reason was not afraid of death.

Norris also had many other unusually, “supernatural” type beliefs.  Soon after she and Norman met, she fell pregnant.  Although the two had decided fairly quickly that they would welcome any children between the two of them, the timing was horrendous and Norris was still getting acclimated to her new life in NYC.  She lamented the pregnancy, and soon after discovering her condition, she had an apparition, which she believed to be her unborn child.  Norris explained to the child that they would happily welcome him in a few years time, but it was too early and they weren’t ready.  A few days later, she began to bleed and suffered a miscarriage.  She fully believed that the child that had come to her was John Buffalo, who did not make his reappearance for two more years.

I am not generally a reader of memoirs.  I can’t pinpoint why  . . . maybe there just aren’t enough good ones out there.  When I stumble across an engrossing memoir though, it’s all I can do not to tear through it.  A Ticket to the Circus had that quality for me.  The fact that my familiarity with the Mailers was nonexistent was not detrimental in any way.  I am now only convinced that I must read some of Norman Mailer’s books pronto.  If any of you readers have a suggestion as to which of Mailer’s books I should start with, I am all ears!

Other Reviews:

None that I could find!

I borrowed this book from my local library.

3 Responses

  1. Sounds like a fascinating portrait of a writer and his life and family. thanks for the great review!

  2. I really do enjoy memoirs, when they’re well done. I think it’s because I read a lot of fiction, and memoirs read more like fiction (though they often cross the line…I’m looking at you, James Frey) than most nonfiction does. A Ticket to the Circus sounds like the good kind of memoir.

    I’ve never read anything by Mailer, but I’m pretty sure this book would make me want to!

  3. I’m not very big on memoirs but this does sound quite interesting. I haven’t read anything by him either! One day…

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