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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

     

Deaths for the Ladies
(and other disasters)

by
Norman Mailer


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters)



Title: Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters)
Author: Norman Mailer
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1962
Length: 240 pages
Availability: Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) - US
Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) - UK
Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) - Canada

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Our Assessment:

C : visually interesting (for a while), but ultimately very limited collection

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commentary . 8/1962 Dwight Macdonald
Poetry . 5/1963 May Swenson


  From the Reviews:
  • "One reason Deaths for the Ladies is not trivial is that here, as in his earlier books, he seems to be trying to find out how much weight his ideas (or better, his attitudes) will bear. (...) In Deaths for the Ladies he implies a criticism of society, but it remains an implication, drowned out by the authorís personal histrionics; he seems uninterested in, and even unaware of, the factual existence of the society he is criticizing: perhaps this is a reaction from his former over-politicalization, but the reaction has gone too far. (...) Too much of Deaths for the Ladies is Hemingwayesque muscle-flexing against the squares (but Hipsterism can be pretty square too); there is too much tough-stuff, too much Iíve-been-around stuff." - Dwight Macdonald, Commentary

  • "He has written captions for vulgar, or grisly, or cynical cartoons to which the reader may supply his own pictures; the style is a little like Jules Feiffer but much more salty. (...) He longs to be a true primitive, a child making figurines out of his excrement, but such is the curse visited upon the sophisticate -- the result is apt to be simply a desperate exhibitionism. Nevertheless, there are a few good pieces here." - May Swenson, Poetry

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) is certainly a visually striking volume, inside and out.
       The original (both US and UK) editions came with a neat cover-design:

Deaths for the Ladies - cover

       (The cover of the mass-market paperback re-issue -- yes, there was one -- isn't nearly as good.)
       Mailer's poetry, too, is visually arresting, the poems often with very few words, and often very few or even only single words to a line, and placed all over the pages -- a single five-liner in one bottom right-hand corner, for example, reading:
This is
genteel
poetry.
One thought
at a time
       It's an odd mix of high and low he aims for -- looking to shock (though the rare curse words are decorously muted ("fó") -- hey, it was 1962, one didn't print those ...) but often maintaining a more refined tone (and holding onto his place in those circles):
One
     of the
     things
          I loathe
     about
     polite
          society
          is that
     one
          cannot
          discuss
          the nuances
          of cannibalism.
       Occasionally, he does actually manage to shock: writing, not long after he stabbed his wife, he manages discomfiting raw honesty (and also what are perhaps the collection's best (and most terrible ?) lines):
So long
     as
     you
     use
     a knife,
there's
     some
     love
       left.
       The language is fairly basic, as Mailer fortunately only occasionally lets himself get carried away with the poetic: "Mangled, morgued / birched and bruted" is one (repeated) sequence that he can't resist, but generally he prefers the more direct and plain-spoken. Still, while more often he seems to be playing around and trying to have some fun, he does strive (or strain) for the traditional-poetic effect in quite a few of the poems -- so 'Hunting':
men who go out to kill deer
     hope to find in the blood
     of the new dead
the poems of my flesh
     said the deer in the forest
       There are a few recurring themes -- not least, as one poem points out: "You have / so many / poems / about / cancer" -- but the different sections of the collection ('Romance', 'Family', 'Rainy Afternoon with the Wife', 'Devils', 'In New York it's not Enough to be Polite', 'Lovers', etc.) are only in a very limited sense thematically organized.
       There are several full-page sketches/doodles, too, the accompanying verse hand-penciled in because print apparently wouldn't do -- yet again something that feels like Mailer was getting bored and wanted to add some more variety.
       The occasional tossed-off aside can be quite amusing, like the silly 'Cheerleader':
She
went to
Southern
Baptist
     U
     but
somehow
she nev-
er did
find out
     who
     John
the Bap-
     tist
     was.
       (Yes, he definitely tries to milk those line/word-arrangements/breaks for way too much -- but the visual aspect does seem very important to him, perhaps because he realizes he isn't getting very far with just the words .....)
       Mailer seems aware that poetry is perhaps not his strong suit, with his efforts more a challenge to expectations and conventions -- a general attitude of being fed up with the usual literary outpourings also suggested in, for example, the poem that reads, in its entirety:
It's excellent. Please do
                               stop
       Perhaps the best summing up is in the three-liner:
It's me
or
my readers.
       And it's fairly clear where Mailer stands.
       No, Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) is not a very good collection, nor particularly revealing. But Mailer seems to be having fun, and he gets off a few good lines (and many terrible ones, including about getting off ...), and it's reasonably amusing. If not entirely forgettable, Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters) is no important or memorable collection, an oddity of the early 1960s, and of Mailer's career.
       A (very) middling but amusing aside -- though visually striking enough in its arrangements to be worth leafing through.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2018

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Links:

Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters): Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       American author Norman Mailer lived 1923 to 2007.

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© 2018 the complete review

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