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A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  639 ratings  ·  100 reviews
A great American love story, this warm, funny, revealing memoir introduces the world to Norman Mailer’s greatest inspiration, his wife of more than thirty years. Like Zelda Fitzgerald before her, Norris Church Mailer has led a life as large and as colorful as her husband’s—and every bit as engaging.

Growing up a strict Free Will Baptist in the South of the 1950s
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Random House
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  639 ratings  ·  100 reviews

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Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
I never write reviews, but I feel compelled to write one for this. This book has gotten rave reviews and I cannot figure out why. Norris Mailer comes across as selfish, deluited and as a doormat to her husband of more than 30 years. The man fucked everything that moved and she just put up with it. And claims theirs was a great love affair. She put her wants and desires before her kids and chose a father who wasn't a very good role model. Of course it's not my business. I don't know her and certa ...more
Paula Gallagher
Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it
I will forever be haunted by images of Mailer's hairy body and soccerball-like stomach.
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Fascinating memoir from Norman Mailer's sixth (and longest-running) wife. This is a woman destined to sleep with greatness, I think, given as a small town Arkansas teacher she had sex with both Norman Mailer and Bill Clinton. I love how, many decades later, after the Lewinsky scandal broke some guy says to Norris, guess you're the only person in Arkansas he never slept with and she has to admit, "I’m afraid he got us all." In any case, I enjoyed her writing style and the ups and downs involved w ...more
Anne Milford
Apr 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have been on a huge memoir kick this year. I saw an article about Norris Church (and this book) in the NYT magazine and was shocked by a few stories she shared about her husband, the late Norman Mailer. It was classic "Wrong Guy" behavior. What was more fascinating to me was how sweet and likable Norris was. Who was this person who was able to draw 7 step-children together from 5 different mothers and create a family?

I really enjoyed this book. Although I would not want anyone I ca
Jun 28, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a memoir by the last of the many wives of Norman Mailer. It was interesting and fun for a light read. What's really amazing about this book is that it's not a "tell-all", though it clearly could have been. She saw his many flaws, but she also saw his greatness and she loved him, though he cheated on her (well, duh.)
They had such an interesting life and she describes their adventures, including a trip to Cuba and a day spent with Castro, as well as parties with Jackie Kennedy and all of
Nicole Rea
Nov 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Kind of ridiculous at times; she talks about minute details of her life that I can't imagine anyone would really have any desire to know. But maybe that was just me. She also seems to give Norman Mailer *WAY TOO MUCH* slack for his perpetual infidelities and overall asshole-ness. He comes across as a coddled child, but she's okay with that apparently, because that's "just him." Gross.

An interesting read, though, overall. Her writing style is incredibly conversational (lots of asides
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Autogiography has to be the most difficult genre to write. Too easily, writers abuse the first person singular, and "Then I did," or a variation on same can start every sentence. Ticket to the Circus suffers from this problem. It's an interesting story, but there is *WAY TOO MUCH* of the first personal pronoun. The author's husband, Norman Mailer, pronounced the book *not as bad as I thought it would be."* The words of a very loving husband. A tougher critic would have been more harsh. There's a ...more
Mar 15, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I blab blab blab I'm so wonderful and famous....then I blab blab blab....blab I sleep with Norman Mailer....I'm a model blab blab blab.....I met blab blab....Then I blab blab....I was so clever blab blab blab

The apartment was a circus with a trapeze in the living room and a bunch of kids raising themselves. She was just the last in a long line of young women he used and discarded. It was very sad to me. I couldn't read anymore, it isn't a love story about a great man or a memoir of a
Lynn Kearney
May 19, 2010 rated it liked it
If I needed reminding why I've always disliked Norman Mailer, this book does it for me. She, on the other hand, is interesting, likeable and bright, apart from her major lapse in judgment in marrying N.M.
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating memoir, and it even made me like Norman Mailer a tiny bit more than before (which still isn't much).
T Fool
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed-books
I came to this with reservations. Mailer in the 1960s was one kind of 'public intellectual' who -- I'll use our current motto -- "spoke truth to power". Over time, I read most of his work, followed his Ego, learned about his marriages of course, saw him playing at 'macho' (plausibly making some of that grade), and being a devil's advocate at a high and often over-the-line level.

Norris, his 6th wife, much younger, something of a 'trophy', did stick with him and by him for a generation
Sherrill Watson
See Anne's and Deodand's reviews.

It certainly was a circus. Norman Mailer's infidelities probably wouldn't have gotten very far in today's climate. His writings and this last Ms. Mailer's life were products of their time. He pulled Poor Little Barbara Jean Davis from Arkansas to Hotsy-Totsy Society, in my opinion because they were incredibly sexually well-matched; but she stayed married to him through sheer stick-to-it-iveness, blending all his children from former marriages (you had
Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Norris Church Mailer is a lot of things: a daughter, a mother, a wife, a student, a teacher, an artist, a model, a writer, a scenester, a cancer survivor. In her honest, revealing memoir A Ticket to the Circus, Norris reflects on her youth in Arkansas, her marriage at age 20 and then meeting and marrying writer Norman Mailer at age 26. Young Norris [then Barbara] dreamed a lot and knew that she wouldn’t stay in Arkansas forever though she enjoyed being close to her family and loved the state. Sh ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
You have to give the lady credit. When Stormin Norman, her sometimes intimidating great American novelist husband, tried to edit her writing, she wouldn't let him. "We were too different."

And yet, her love for him is still believable and authentic, bound at the core by a great sex life, she never hesitates to tell us. Mailer's voice is questing. Norris Church's is old fashioned, full of the kind of common sense the Arkansas daughter of a heavy machinery instructor would have. We meet all kind
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Note: re-reading parts of this book 4 years garnered more sympathy and admiration for the author. I still have not read read anything by Norman Mailer.

Who could imagine an autobiography from the sixth of self-proclaimed chauvinist/egotist Norman Mailer's wives could merit a read? Mailer stumbled into half a dozen ill-fated marriages and sired an extended family so vast that he ran out of names (hence one offspring named "Buffalo") while carrying on multiple affairs, trysts and liason
Carl Rollyson
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it
In 1974, the stunning Barbara Norris, then 26, met the controversial 52-year-old leonine man of letters. A divorcee with a young son, she was teaching art in a small Arkansas town. She had studied writing with Norman Mailer's World War II buddy, Francis Gwaltny, and she had had her brush with fame dating the state's governor, Bill Clinton.

It seems nearly everyone thought she was out of her depth when she encouraged Mailer's attentions. For his part, Mailer found her beauty breathtaki
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes memoirs
Recommended to Carol by: Oprha
I liked this book a lot and was sorry to learn from Google that she is also deceased since 2010. If she were still living I would share my thoughts and comments with her. She and Norman both had so many medical issue and emotional issues to work through but they hung in there with each other to the very end. Pardon my ignorance but I had heard of Norman Mailer but didn't know why he was famous. That is probably because I'm not very much into politics if at all. Just enough feel like I know what ...more
May 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Diane by: Oprah Magazine April 2010
I read about this book in the April edition of Oprah magazine. All I needed to see was "Ticket is at once a glimpse into New York's social and LITERARY whirl...." and I knew I had to read it.

I finally read this book! Again wishing that Goodreads had a half star rating, because I would give it a 3 1/2 star. Anyway, I think it takes a lot of guts to write a memoir. You end up baring your soul and wonder, first of all, will anyone want to buy it? And if yes, what will they think of me? And IMO"
Jul 11, 2010 rated it liked it
I liked this book overall. It is well written and made interesting simply by the telling of this woman's tale - even had she not married Norman Mailer. I have two major criticisms: Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a blurb for the front and back covers and I honestly thought, if she is giving this book such a glowing review that says quite a bit and it is worth the read. Then 200 pages into it I find out that she is one of the author's best friends!! In my mind that completely discounts anything she mi ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Jun 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: july-aug-2010
This candid, entertaining memoir proves that Norman Mailer wasn't the only talented writer in the family. Norris unveils her life story with warmth, wit, and grit, despite some occasionally precious prose. While a few critics were disturbed by Norris's stated willingness to stifle her individuality and ambitions to please her temperamental husband, her frankness in sharing many of the grim and often humiliating particulars won them over, and she provides plenty of juicy details about Norman and ...more
I might be in the minority here, but I couldn't even finish this book. Reading the chapters where she first gets together with Mailer is like when one of your friends is dating a douche and you can't get her to stop - I wanted to scream at Norris "no, no, run the other way!" I have to admit that if I thought of Norris as a friend I wanted to help, there must have been some aspect of this book that was appealing, but that didn't make up for its shortcomings. Also, I found the tone of the book obn ...more
Mar 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The story was not at all what I was expecting, based on the title. However, having reached the end of the book, it's an apt title.
I was propelled through the story to the end, always curious as to what would happen, a little amazed/shocked/doubtful about attitudes toward sexual relationships and love. Norris often states how there were things she really despised about her husband, but there were more things she loved. She had a lot of stamina and personal strength to keep going throughout
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Norman Mailer was married six times and this book is written by his sixth and final wife Norris Church Mailer. I wasn't sure if I'd like this book (considering he's the author, not her). But I was pleasantly surprised, the book was well written.

I thought this was a VERY entertaining and touching memoir written in an honest and frank voice.

Because of Norman's relentless cheating, some people did not like this book because they couldn't comprehend why Norris stayed with Norman -- but
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: married people, novelists, writers, people interested in literature and history and memoirs
Honest, gripping memoir from the last wife of Norman Mailer who, by herself, is an amazingly talented artist, actress, and writer.

Theirs is not the all-American love story, but it is an accurate portrayal of two people struggling to reconcile their differences, forgive betrayals, and embrace each other "for better or for worse."

The humanity in this book is worth reading. Norris has a gift of the artist's eye for the perfect image. Her style is very different than Mailer's
I took a long time reading this. Mostly because it was book and not audible and it is so very difficult to read and knit. That said I really liked it but not necessarily Churches style. I would have to read her novels to comment further. It is always fun to read details of famous peoples lives and the Mailers were and rubbed elbows with famous people from celebrity to politicians. Even criminals. It was also interesting to read of her life with Norman from her view. It is well known he was a "la ...more
Jessica Mccarthy
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
How do you make The Ramones, the Clintons, Hunter S. Thompson, Muhammad Ali, and Norman Mailer boring? Ask Norman's last wife. I read, and continued reading, and finished this book solely because I'm taking the Goodreads Reading Challenge and didn't want to waste the pages.

Even while slamming beers in the pool, I was annoyed and bored by this book. Mrs Mailer waxes on and on and on about being soooo pretty and how awkward and yet flattering it was when Gentleman A , B, C, F was soooo captivated
Jenn Jurisprudence
Apr 22, 2010 rated it liked it
So obviously Norman was the writer in the family. In spite of her lack of writing skill, Ms. Church Mailer manages to tell an interesting story. It couldn't have been easy , being married to a guy like NM and yet Ms. CM gives readers some insight into those difficulties without sounding bitter or resentful. Mostly it seems like everyone in Norman's life, including his kids, took a backseat to whatever his needs were. Kudos to Ms. CM for being able to put up with a huge fathead like that for 30+ ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Plain and simple, I loved this book. I came away from it with a newfound appreciation for and admiration of Norris Church Mailer. Hands down the best book I've read this year, not so much for the quality of the writing, but for Mailer's emotional honesty, natural voice, and her invitation to readers to reach a new and compassionate understanding of her legendary husband. I have never before read a memoir of such compassion. I am grateful to Mailer for having written her story, and am saddened th ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Norris Church Mailer must be a saint to have lived with Norman Mailer for thirty years or so. She comes off as a genuine, real-life small town girl who became famous mostly because of her marriage to a well-known writer. However, she did, in fact, have a career (or careers really) of her own. It's interesting to see how she handled it all, especially toward the end of Mailer's life when she was dealing with multiple cancers and at the same time taking care of her husband and her mother. She is a ...more
Jun 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, usa
I admire the author's fantastic ability to compartmentalize her life. There are a lot of places where she recounts something that may not have agreed with her inner compass, and she finishes with "...but I don't think about that" or some variant. She doesn't seem concerned about rehashing things that happened in Norman Mailer's life previous to her arrival, or about providing excuses or insight about her own issues. These things kind of just happened.

She also seems to have had an epi
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Best known as the last spouse (and then widow) of writer Norman Mailer.