2010: 56. The Naked and the Dead

“Nobody could sleep.  When morning came, assault craft would be lowered and a first wave of troops would ride through the surf and charge ashore on the beach at Anopopei.”

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer

       With this, and Catch-22, and Slaughterhouse Five (coming “soon” to a blog near you!), I feel lately like I’m taking a seminar in World War II fiction.  Maybe I should just rent The Pacific, and be done with it.  What can I say about The Naked and the Dead? Well, I preferred Catch-22.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of war novels, period, and I guess I prefer mine laced with the absurdity of war, rather than straight reporting.*  Which is not to say that I do not appreciate what Mailer has done here - his story of the assault on Anopopei is as close to making you feel like you’re there as I think just about anyone could do.  You feel the heat, and the futility, and the hell, and it’s very well done when it’s limited to a sort of you are there reporting on the campaign.

        It’s just that when we get to the characters, the book is frankly sort of boring. The soldiers seem like stock characters, and are almost impossible to tell apart, even with the flashback interludes dedicated to each one.  Which may have been purposeful on Mailer’s part, to show how each man is just a cog in wartime - but it’s still dull to read.  And when he gets fancy about the characters, like with the General and Lieutenant Hearn, the book sort of falls apart.  Are we to believe that the General is a homosexual? Or just a facist? Or both? And why do I care?**  I did like the fact that the characters basically all loathed each other - why would men be brothers just because the Army told them to be, but my general impression is that the character aspects of the novel didn’t work for me, even as the war reporting did.

      And two more things.  One, oh my lord does the book go on forever.  I’ve read The Executioner’s Song, maybe even more than once, and that is a loooong book, but it didn’t seem like a slog the way The Naked and the Dead did.  Two, would it be possible to reprint this book, and replace all the “fugs” with “fucks”? Because the “fugging”, while understandably necessary in 1945 is pretty disconcerting in 2010.


Date/Place Completed:  July 2010; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100


*I really guess I do, because honestly, my favorite of the three by far is Slaughterhouse Five. 


** Spoiler - I will say, I did think that Hearn’s sudden death on the futile mission was actually one of the best parts of the book, but I didn’t really need all the will to power stuff with the general to appreciate it. 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017