"There was pain now in the sound, and such a truth in the grief that I knew she was crying not for Deborah, not even quite for herself, but rather for the unmitigatable fact that women who have discovered the power of sex are never far from suicide."
Uh... right. The other factor of this book that crippled my ability to enjoy it was the fact that Rojack is a completely unsympathetic character. He's not a bad person, just totally amoral. He never seems to do anything because it's the right thing to do; he just does whatever he wants to do, justifying his actions with quasi-philosophical nonsense. I found myself hoping the police would actually get some proof he murdered his wife and put him away.
Still, I'm aware this is regarded as an extraordinary novel by literary types, and given that, it's probably worth a chance. There's a quote on the back from a review in Harper's that says, "A work of fierce concentration." If you can figure out what that means, you might also be able to figure out this book.
Stephen Rojack is an ex-politician, war hero, and public intellectual who murders his wife, and who in the aftermath goes on a bizarre rollercoaster through the gutters of Manhattan, a journey which leads him to some surprising revelations.
In reading An American Dream I often felt that the novel was a sort of experiment in Mailer's eyes; several elements appear that he would revisit in other novels. He again looks through the eyes of a killer in Executioner's Song, and he writes about spies, gangsters, and JFK again in the Harlot's Ghost, his excellent epic fictionalized story of the CIA.
There are a couple of sterling moments in which Mailer's skill as a writer shines. In the first, Rojack, the protagonist, recounts an experience rushing a German machine gun nest. Mailer does a perfect job of painting the out-of-body otherworldliness of the moment. The second occurs when Rojack approaches a woman in a bar and ends up in a tense standoff with the gangsters who are accompanying her. Both instances are excellently drawn sketches of violence, one carried out through action, the other threatened but unrealized.
A few strong passages notwithstanding, this is an unfocused under-edited novel full of opaque philosophizing and flat characters. An interesting experiment, but it doesn't quite work.