A Ticket to the Circus
Curiously, given his history, Norris claims it never occurred to her—even after she'd moved to New York and borne his son—that there may have been other women. And perhaps for a number of years there weren't. Then came the fateful day when, after 11 years of marriage, she stepped foot in her husband's office. He had given her the key, so "he must have wanted me to find everything." Bursting out of his desk drawer were photos and letters from innumerable liaisons. In his typical fashion, Mailer confessed—and kept on confessing, in lurid detail, for months. Here, in his wife's rather hilarious recounting, Mailer becomes a small man—the comical, mealy-mouthed husband. With a straight face, Mailer told his wife that his cheating was part of his research for Harlot's Ghost: To understand CIA operatives, he had to live a double life, he said.
He was complex; that's for sure. "Part of him was this wonderful, sweet, intelligent, terrific, funny guy that I was madly in love with. And another part, I just couldn't stand," Norris says now. Still, she did not leave; instead she made the decision to "take a step away from [him] in my heart...it was better to be a little bit less in love." Mailer noticed the withdrawal and would have liked to win her back, she says, but he was incorrigible. On his deathbed in 2007, he awoke from a coma long enough to sip his favorite drink—rum and orange juice—and kiss a family friend on the mouth.
Remembering that day, Norris is surprised it wasn't she in the hospital; diagnosed with a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer ten years ago, she was not expected to last more than a year or two. But she's still here at age 61, fragile although stunning as ever. She remains determined to tell her truth. "I needed to exorcise some parts of my life," she says, "and maybe I wanted my own bit of immortality, too." —Judith Newman