O verlooked in all the hubbub greeting The Castle in the Forest, Norman Mailer’s reimagining of Adolf Hitler’s youth under the tutelage of a demon, is the surprising fact that the macho novelist writes of same-sex love with surprising conviction. Young “Adi” has an older brother who puts “his happy blood-filled organ” into the “yearning lips” of an elderly beekeeper and whose buttocks “feel like the portals to a bounteously endowed temple.” The author, 84, wrote more than 50 years ago that he was “guilty” of “attributing unpleasant, ridiculous, or sinister connotations to the homosexual … characters in my novels.” So what’s changed? Was it firsthand research? “You have to cross the Rubicon to do that [and] I didn’t feel comfortable doing that,” he says. “But then I thought, Come on, it’s not that hard to imagine what it’s like.” Is there some safety in his age? “Oh, yes. When you’re younger, it takes more courage to be brave. You can lose so much. It’s enjoyable to be brave now, whereas when I was younger it was hairy and sweaty.”
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