Synopses & Reviews
A great American love story, this warm, funny, revealing memoir introduces the world to Norman Mailer’s greatest inspiration, his wife of more than thirty years. Like Zelda Fitzgerald before her, Norris Church Mailer has led a life as large and as colorful as her husband’s—and every bit as engaging.
Growing up a strict Free Will Baptist in the South of the 1950s, Norris Church, christened Barbara Jean Davis, was crowned “Little Miss Little Rock” at the age of three and always knew that life had more to offer her than the comforts of small-town Arkansas. But she could never have guessed that in her early twenties she would date future president Bill Clinton (and predict his national victory even after he lost his first run for Congress), or that the following year she would meet Norman Mailer, who was passing through town giving a lecture at the local college. They fell in love in one night—and their marriage lasted thirty-three years.
Despite her enduring love for the man, Norris found life with the writer full of challenges—from carving out her own niche in the wake of five ex-wives and numerous former girlfriends, to easing her way into the hearts of her seven stepchildren, to negotiating the ferocious world of Mailer’s fame, friends, and literary life. The couple’s New York parties were legendary, and their social circle included such luminaries as Muhammad Ali, Jacqueline Kennedy, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Imelda Marcos.
Their decades-long obsession with each other, as seen in the intimate letters that Norris reveals here for the first time, was not without tests and infidelities; theirs was a marriage full of friendship, betrayal, doubts, understanding, and deep, complicated, lifelong passion.
With southern charm and wit, Norris Church Mailer depicts the full evolution of her life, from her childhood all the way through her intense marriage with Norman and his heartbreaking death. This unforgettable memoir will enchant readers with its honesty and insight into how we grow up and how we love.
About the Author
Norris Church Mailer is the author of two novels, Windchill Summer and Cheap Diamonds. Raised in Arkansas, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the mother of two sons, two stepsons, and five stepdaughters, as well as grandmother to two and step-grandmother to nine.
Reading Group Guide
1. One reviewer described Norris' life as a series of emancipations. From what or whom do you think she was liberated? Was she really able to leave her childhood and life in Arkansas, or was her life there too much a part of who she was?
2. How did you relate to Norris' childhood with regard to her religious upbringing? Did you see it as harsh or loving? How far should you go in allowing religion to dictate your life?
3. Upon beginning life with Norman, Norris realized that public perception of him was often greatly at odds with the man she knew. How should she have handled ugly comments about the man she loved?
4. Being with someone who is so successful in their field can be intimidating, especially if you have aspirations in the same field. Did Norris do the right thing in putting her novel away when Norman was less than enthusiastic about it? Or should she have ignored it and continued writing?
5. Being related to a famous man is a double-edged sword, at best. As the wife of a controversial celebrity, was it harder or easier for Norris to succeed?
6. The age difference didn't seem to be an issue between Norman and Norris for quite a long time, but it was hard in later years. In what ways did their age gap bolster their relationship, and it what ways did it put strain on it? What roles do age and life experience play in relationships, especially marriage?
7. Knowing Norman's history and reputation as a womanizer, should Norris have been more guarded? Why or why not?
8. Being a step parent is a difficult relationship, for many reasons. Why do you think Norris had such a good relationship with the children? How does the definition of what it means to be a mother or father extend beyond shared DNA?
9. At one point, after Norris discovered the extent of Norman's infidelities, she describes herself as having taken a step away from him in her heart. Is it necessary to do that, if you want to protect yourself? Can you ever take that step back again and have a relationship as close as it was? If not, then what kind of relationship is possible? How do you move on? Can you control it?
10. Discuss how you viewed Norman Mailer before reading A Ticket to the Circus, as well as after. Did Norris' intimate, private account of life with a very public man change your opinions of him? Are we ultimately better defined not by what we do, but by the people we love—or more importantly, who loves us back?