THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, July 6, 2003
Reviewer: Donald A. Newlove (Greenwich Village)
I read this the first week it came out, long ago, and thought it the Great American Novel, despite its being set in Egypt. Why so grand an opinion? Because the writing, especially the set-pieces about mummification and a trip up the Nile, as well as others, were better written than any passages of equal length by any American author I'd ever read. RAINTREE COUNTY sets out to be the Great Amrican Novel but, as much as I enjoyed it when I was twenty, its lyricism falls short of Mailer's. The trip up the Nile is equaled only by Twain's Mississippi, Melville's Three-Day Chase at the end of MOBY DICK, and Hemingway's description of the deep waters Santiago fishes in in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. I found Mailer's characters, even the walkons, more well-rounded and weighted than any by the whole pantheon of classic American writers. Melville, Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Dreiser, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Updike, none of them has created Tolstoyan characters with feet as fully plantd on the page as Mailer's Egyptians. Nor has Mailer ever again matched the exquisite bath of light in which he washes these pages.
Memorable and bawdy. Crossing three millennia to Pharaonic Egypt, this tale returns to that land's essences - the war, magic, gods, death and reincarnations, the lusts, ambitions, jealousies, and betrayals.
Mailer transports us to ancient Egypt. The characters come alive through the timeless foibles of lust, vanity, pride, and greed, etc. And yet, are as lovingly formed as if from mud from the very banks of the ancient Nile. Mailer makes even the ancient gods breath life in one of his more fun novels.