The Gospel According to the Son

Norman Mailer, Author
Norman Mailer, Author Random House Inc $22 (242p) ISBN 978-0-679-45783-1
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
Analog Audio Cassette - 4 pages - 978-0-7871-1589-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 256 pages - 978-0-345-42132-6
Hardcover - 978-1-56895-510-0
Hardcover - 978-0-517-40112-5
Paperback - 242 pages - 978-0-345-43408-1
Open Ebook - 166 pages - 978-1-299-82327-3
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-8129-8600-6
Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-4356-7793-7
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Only a novelist as daring as Mailer would attempt to retell the story of Jesus in Jesus's own words. There are reasons for this, paramount among them the difficulty, perhaps impossibility, of plumbing the psychology of, and creating an internal voice for, a man meant to be divine as well as human. And the Jesus whose soul Mailer bares in his brave, beautiful and ambitious new novel is meant to be both, for Mailer revises the Gospels only partially here. His Jesus is the Son of God, a Jewish miracle worker who speaks with God and debates the Devil, who is crucified for his teachings and who, three days later, rises from the dead. To tell Jesus's story, Mailer adopts biblical-style prose that works powerfully well: ""In those days,"" he begins, ""I was the one who came down from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the River Jordan."" Mailer is brilliant in depicting the human side of Jesus--his confusion and pride as he comes to understand who he is; his love for sinners and hatred of the pious; his terror at his impending fate and, above all, his grapplings with the limits of his powers. True to Mailer's theology, expressed in earlier works, of an anthropomorphic God at war with other Powers, this Jesus and his Father can know defeat. But this philosophical stance proves an aesthetic weakness, for by presenting Jesus's martyrdom as ""debacle and disaster,"" in effect a twist of fate, Mailer's telling loses the force of inexorable destiny that exalts the telling of the Gospels. Less persuasive still is Mailer's attempt to represent Jesus's divinity. To do so, he most often relies on a mundane literalism. He learns too heavily on the miracle-working, and his presentation of the Last Supper lacks any sense of mystical mystery. His treatment of the Resurrection and what follows is flat as a board, and full of splinters, for here he forces Jesus to become his mouthpiece for this theological opinion and that. But if this novel is partially a failure, it is a great and profoundly moving one that is also a triumph. Its penetration into Jesus's human heart rivals Dostoyevsky for depth and insight. Its recreation of the world through which Jesus walked is as real as blood. Ultimately, Mailer convinces, more than any writer before him, that for Jesus the man it could have been just like this; and that is, in itself, some sort of literary miracle. (May)
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