Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead is a mesmerizing look at Army life in WWII. Mailer tells the story of an Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon on a fictional Pacific Island. There are fewer battle scenes than expected. Most of the story is about the men on daily patrols, guard duty, and a week long patrol behind enemy lines. The realism of Mailer's descriptions -- particularly, of what it was like to hike for days and days in the jungle carrying 60 pounds of equipment -- are riveting. What those men went through!
Mailer personalizes the characters by interposing flashbacks highlighting the pre-war lives of several of the men. He also switches the point of view among the various characters. Still, the characters are never fully developed, which, oddly, made the story more realistic. The reader gets the kind of impressionistic views of each man in the troop that the men had of each other. These men were all thrown together to serve under horrible conditions, but they had nothing in common to start with and really did not know each other.
All in all, a great book. It is long, but it is a fast read. In Mailer’s introduction to the 50th Anniversary edition he self-deprecatingly explains that the book (his first) was a best seller and was written in the flashy language of all best sellers. But it is not the language that makes the book so good, it is the story.
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Mailer's best seller did not win any prizes, but it did make it to the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, Radcliffe's competing list, The Book of the Month Club's "Well Stocked Bookcase" list, and Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels.