Kevin Power at the Dublin Review of Books:
In 1954, on holiday in Mexico, Norman Mailer discovered weed. He had smoked it before, but this time was different. He experienced “some of the most incredible vomiting I ever had … like an apocalyptic purge”. But soon “I was on pot for the first time in my life, really on.” His second wife, the painter Adele Morales, was sleeping on a couch nearby. “I could seem to make her face whoever I wanted [it] to be,” Mailer wrote later, in the journal he kept during his marijuana years. “Probably could change her into an animal if I wished.” After that he got high on a regular basis. On “tea” (he called his weed diary “Lipton’s Journal”), he felt that “For the first time in my life, I could really understand jazz.” He also got to know the mind of the Almighty, which bore, he discovered, a marked resemblance to his own. Hotboxing in his car every night for a week, Mailer groped his way to the ideas that would shape his work during the 1960s and beyond. They were not, on the whole, very good ideas. But by 1954 Mailer was a desperate man. He was thirty-one and had published two novels: The Naked and the Dead (1948), which had been a smash, and Barbary Shore (1952), which had tanked. He felt like a failure. He needed “the energy of new success”. Eventually, of course, new success would come. But things had to get a lot worse before they could get better.