The beauty who once enthralled powerful men is no more. Multiple treatments and surgeries for an incurable cancer have ravaged her. Mailer died in 2007, and her account of his last days is lovely and inspiring. Norris’ end is drawing near, but she will go having lived a full, regretless life. How many of us will be able to say the same?
“A Ticket to the Circus” is not a tell-all memoir; it’s a tell-enough memoir. It’s Ms. Mailer’s own plucky and sometimes sentimental autobiography, written in the lemony sweet-tea mode of Southern novelists like Lee Smith. It details her Arkansas upbringing in a poor family: her father built roads; the family had an outhouse. At 3, Ms. Mailer won the Little Miss Little Rock contest. She was married by 20, to a man who left to serve in Vietnam, and soon began to hear a voice in her head “telling me I had missed the parade.” Ms. Mailer doesn’t hide the darker elements in her story: her mother’s shock therapy treatments, her own rape by a friend’s older brother. She also includes embarrassing bits other memoirists might have omitted, including goopy letters and poems she sent Mailer.
Despite the intrusion of violence into their lives, the couple lived a happy, almost blissful life with their son and eight children from their earlier marriages (seven of them Norman’s). Until, that is, Norris Mailer, who took care of the family finances, discovered some surprising credit card charges. It is fair to say, she assents, that the old bull had not changed his ways.
More to come…