I became acquainted with Norman Mailer in the last 10 or 15 years of his life, at a time when he was, shall we say, mellower than he’d been. By this time he’d been married six times and was at this point married to Norris Church—as you all know Norris was one of the most beautiful women … And her physical beauty was matched by an inner, spiritual beauty—she was really quite extraordinary.
I knew them, if not well, as a couple. The first time I’d met Norman was at an event at Lincoln Center—I think it was a fundraiser for a literacy organization. Norman was the MC. And I was one of a number of writers who were giving readings. When I came out on stage, Norman was gracious and shook my hand and introduced me by saying, “Joyce Carol Oates has written this remarkable book On Boxing.” He let that sink in to the audience, then added, “It’s so good I’d almost thought that I had written it myself.” And there were waves of good-natured laughter from the audience and Norman seemed just slightly puzzled, like—Why is that funny?
Norman had meant his remark as the highest praise. In speaking of Norman Mailer we’re speaking of the male ego raised to the very highest, without which we wouldn’t have civilization, I’m sure.