A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir by Norris Church Mailer

A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir by Norris Church Mailer
ISBN 978-0-8129-7987-9
Random House Trade Paperback Edition
New York
2011

I have not been in a reading mood lately but needed to fulfill my 52-52-52 Challenge obligation, so I went to the bookstore to kill some time the other day and was trying to think of books I wanted to read. I finally thought of Norris Church Mailer’s book about her life. I didn’t even remember the title, but quickly found it in the biography section of Barnes and Noble. I love the title: A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir. If you don’t know who Norris Church Mailer is, she is the sixth wife of the great writer Norman Mailer. She was with him for 33 years until his death in 2007. She died in 2010 from gastrointestinal cancer at the age of 61, after suffering many years from the disease. Personally, I did not know very much about Norman Mailer, his life, or his family until this book. The only book of his that I have read about 15 years ago was The Executioner’s Song. Of course, I thought the story of Gary Gilmore and his quest to be executed by firing squad was extremely well written, and had enjoyed previously the movie based on the book. I searched in my memory bank and remembered that I even went to hear Mr. Mailer speak at SMU at one of their literary festivals a while back. I had only read the one book, but I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear him speak. I have no memory of what he talked about. I was seated near the back of the auditorium. I just remember that I thought he was very old and it might be boring, but his talk was better than I expected. Also, I remember him taking questions from the audience and a young black student in front of me asked him a question about James Baldwin. I bought a poster from that festival as a remembrance, as that was way before I actually took evening classes at SMU and was much more interested in writers and their craft.

I was hooked into Ms. Mailer’s book from the start. I knew she was from Arkansas and happened to meet Norman Mailer at a lecture when he came to Little Rock, but couldn’t wait to find out the circumstances. Can you imagine being a high school art teacher, divorced with a small son, and falling in love with an older guy that is still married to one lady, taking a sabbatical from another, has 7 kids, and is a famous author? Well, that is what happened to Barbara Davis Norris. She left her young son, Matthew, with her sweet parents and moved to New York to be close to Mailer and see how their relationship would work. She also had aspirations as a model and as a painter, so New York was a great escape for this tall, southern-born and bred Baptist 70’s hippie woman.
I liked a lot about A Ticket to the Circus:
–Ms. Mailer writes in a very honest, readable way. I enjoyed reading about her life growing up, her first marriage to Larry Norris during the Vietnam era, and her experiences teaching art to 70’s teens. Even if she never met Norman Mailer, I think she led an interesting life, or at least wrote in such a way as to make it seem interesting to me.
–Norris Church Mailer, John Buffalo Mailer, and Norman Mailer (from www.nytimes.com)
–I enjoyed learning about Norman Mailer and his life as a father and husband, as well as a son and brother. For a serial philanderer who only lived with one of his children past the age of 7, Mailer spent every summer with most of his kids in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and it seems they felt close to one another and enjoyed their relationship with their father. Most of his kids are creative; all have no issues such as alcohol or drug abuse, and all live very productive lives. Ms. Mailer’s first son was Norman’s only stepson and they were close. Her second son with Mailer, John Buffalo, was the only child of his that he lived with from birth to adulthood.
–the Mailer family including his mother and sister (from www.nytimes.com)
–I enjoyed learning about many of the books Mailer has written and really would like to read some of them.
I did not really think Ms. Mailer should have shared a few things, such as how she slept with Bill Clinton before he was governor of Arkansas, but it is her book and her story. Cannot some things be kept a secret forever?
One thing about the book I enjoyed was how pictures were interspersed in the book relative to the time being written about, instead of having an insert in the middle of the book with tons of pictures.
I really wish I could have seen and met Ms. Mailer in person, as I think I would have liked her a lot. She seems to be one of the reasons the children are close to one another. Even though Mailer cheated on her, too, I think he loved her and their life together. I would have enjoyed hearing her read excerpts from her book and talk about her life with Mailer, his children, and her two sons.