Before any of you say, "Again?". I'll relate my feelings
on Norman Mailer.
Like everyone else, I read "The Naked and the Dead" in high school and liked it. Even though it droned on and the word "fug" annoyed me. There were enough dirty parts to get me through. I liked it, end of story.
I had to read "The Executioner's Song' for a class, and I liked that one too. I thought it was a good book, but I never figured out why I should care more for the murderer than for the murderee. Whatever, by this time I had been taught that Norman mailer was a "Great Writer".
"Great Writers" write "Important Books", they are "artists" and we can learn from them. So, since I wanted to be a writer, I vowed to read a lot of "Great Writers" and Norman Mailer was on the list.
At some point in college I picked up "Tough Guys Don't Dance"...and I thought, "OK, he's getting old." I read it because of the force of the marketing behind it. It was Norman Mailer
and it was a detective story
(I had just come to believe that detective stories were the truest form of American literary art. I still believe that, with some modification, but that's a different rant.) and if a "Great Writer" wrote a detective story I had to read it.
That was OK, though. All the old guard were in terrible form in the 80's. I mean, everyone was trying too hard to be "relevant". They came up with the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame' in the 80's for Christ's sake. I remember seeing Alan Ginsburg on MTV in the 80's, flopping around like some big, gay muppet in between power ballads by Poison and Brittany Fox. So if Norman had a bit too much coke and wrote a shitty book, well hell, didn't everyone?
So, my senior year of college I had to take a first level American history class to finish my core requirements, I made a Huuuge mistake and picked Modern American History or History since WWII. A class that taught American history only as someone with their head up there ass since 1968 could teach it. To sum up:
1) WWII - We bombed Dresden and interned Japanese. This caused the Berlin Airlift.
2)1950 to 1960 - Stifling repression, made bearable by Elvis and TV.
3) 1960 - 1963 - The Golden Age.
4) 1963 - 1969 - The Second Golden Age, or how I personally stopped a war by not going and smoking lots and lots of good shit.
5) 1970-1974 - Nixon!
6) 1974-1980 - Did I mention Nixon? and Nixon. Oh yeah, Nixon!
7) 1980- on. Did you know Reagan was a racist and might be gay? Me too! And Nixon.
We were assigned to read, in this class, a book by Norman Mailer. The only truly honest history of the 60's. A novel. (Make any sense to you? Me neither.) So I went and bought a book that Guiness describes as having the most pretentious title ever published, "The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History".
Oh dear God in heaven.
I paid $24 for that book, couldn't get it used. $24 that I didn't have. It never actually came up on class, and after struggling mightily over several successive morning craps, I gave up and stopped trying to read it. I finished school that December and sold it back to the campus bookstore for something like $8 and bought a cheesesteak and a pack of Marlborough. I got the better of the deal.
By 1994 I had moved to Atlanta and "Harlot's Ghost" was in paperback. I couldn't afford it, so I was lucky to find all 1400 pages of it in the remainder bin at Media-Play. I guess "lucky" is too strong of a word. This book reeks. I can't believe I fell for it again. The marketing, that is.
Let me explain.
There is a certain type of person whom, for whatever reason, is obsessed with the JFK assasination/Marilyn Monroe/Bay of Pigs/Mafia/Jakie O story. Most of the rest of us have moved on. In fact, if it wasn't for these people, most of the modern media establishment would simply cease to exist. These people want us to belive a couple of things:
1) JFK was a guy who did GREAT THINGS, even though he really didn't.
2)Marilyn Monroe was a GREAT ACTRESS, even though she really wasn't.
3)The Bay of Pigs was a WORLD CHANGING EVENT, the what?
4)Jakie O was the most beautiful woman EVER, except for Marilyn who was just as if not more beautiful, so beautiful she must have been an alien or something. And let's face it. I've seen pictures and video of Jackie O. and no offense, but, meh.
Norman is one of these people, and he wants us to dig through 1400+ pages of lame spy story to get to it.
What I realised after reading this enormous pile of crap was that I, maddad, would never be a "Great Writer". I simply have too much shame.
I've been reading fiction again, trying to broaden my horizons, and nearly every single book I pull out of the stacks has the word "This book will chage the way you think about..." or "This book will challenge your perceptions of..." blurbed on the dust jacket. I'm not going to blame Norman Mailer for that, but he does share some of the responsibility. When everything you write has to be some kind of social statement or worse yet, in some kind of impenetrable prose, or told in some crazy flashback scheme, it becomes impossible to just tell a good story. A good story used to make me wish I could be a writer, used to get me to put pen to paper. I do have a story in me, after all, but reading this crap posing as "Great Fiction" simply saps the will. I've been reading two books a week for the last two and a half years, five of which I would consider great books, only one of which was written by an authour with any kind of name recognition. Most of the books I read from "Great Writers" end up having some sticky-sweet moral about as heavy as the last "very special" episode of some NBC sitcom. (Thanks Norman Lear, you bastard.)
Now that I'm an adult, and can write my own dirty parts, or at least see them in gainy video on the intarweb, I have re-read "The Naked and the Dead" and guess what, it's not that great of a book. It's not terrible, but it's obvious that the guy writing it has one book in him and this was it. If the writer was a true artist, he would recognise this and deal with it, Ralph Ellison comes to mind, but most aren't artists. And that's Norman Mailer