Norman Mailer has spent a lifetime looking for attention. At some point he must have decided that if he couldn’t get enough of it through his literary efforts, then he might succeed with exhibitionistic behavior. Hence the famous belligerence, the hubris, and the enfant terrible shenanigans, the efforts to shock and offend. But as the twentieth century draws to a close and fiction, like life, gets ever more bizarre, it is becoming almost impossible to shock or offend anymore. How, then, might an aging, slightly out-of-date novelist find his way back into the spotlight?

He must have been sure that by writing a novel about Jesus, and in the first person, he could raise a few hackles. In an interview with The New York Times shortly after publication of his new novel, The Gospel According to the Son,[1] Mailer said hopefully, “There’s an irritation factor I’m...


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