Saturday, June 20, 2015
Review: "The Fight" by Norman Mailer
I re-read the introduction Dave Eggers wrote for Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and he says something that informs quite a bit about Mailer’s The Fight, an account of the famous Ali/Foreman fight in 1974, the “Rumble in the Jungle”. He says, of The Executioner’s Song, that it has nothing in common with the persona that Mailer built around himself and his writing life. That persona, while absent from that great, monumental book, is all too prevalent here, with the fight itself being little more than a backdrop for Mailer to talk about himself, and how, in some way, he is like both Ali and Foreman. Luckily, this book is nowhere near 1000 pages, being little more than an experiment in self-reflective sports writing that could have been done better by a writer who wasn’t as obsessed with himself as Mailer was. The setup of the book is quite simple: Mailer travels to Zaire to cover the sport, and uses his celebrity status to get in depth coverage of the events leading up to the fight, from training and sparring sessions with both fighters back in the states, and Ali’s trash talking poetry, while also talking to the people around each man, like Ali’s trainer Bundini Brown, a volatile, entertaining person, President of Zaire Mobutu , who sees the fight as a showcase of black honor, and Don King, whose first big promoting gig was this one. There are some entertaining moments, like when Mailer is talking with Don King about the books he read in prison, all with a mispronunciation of Nietzsche that had me rolling, and anytime Bundini Brown talks to Mailer about blackness. But it gets old pretty fast, as the actual fight is one of the least interesting parts of the book. I a lot of people try to discredit Mailer, since his views and behavior is very archaic right now, but he has written some great books that can’t be ignored or dismissed. But this is not one of them.