Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Review of Norman's Mailer New Novel

Published in The New York Times, it's WELL WORTH reading. Click here.

Here's an exerpt:

FOR Mailer, a novelist fanatically committed to the truth, the problem of the ego’s relation to other people has been for many years now the problem of the narrator’s relation to his material. In his eyes, writing must be an authentic presentation of the self.

As Mailer sees it, great writing puts before the reader life’s harshest enigmas with clarity and compassion. “The novelist is out there early with a particular necessity that may become the necessity of us all,” he has written. “It is to deal with life as something God did not offer us as eternal and immutable. Rather, it is our human destiny to enlarge what we were given. Perhaps we are meant to clarify a world which is always different in one manner or another from the way we have seen it on the day before.”

And once you have authentically presented yourself in your writing, you can no longer practice the expedience of concealing yourself as a person. So Mailer the man has — sometimes not happily — transgressed social norms, just as his books have crashed through the boundaries of alien identity and literary genre. Yet for all the cross-pollination between his art and his life, Mailer has always insisted on true art as a form of honest living. The writer, as he once put it, “can grow as a person or he can shrink. ... His curiosity, his reaction to life must not diminish. The fatal thing is to shrink, to be interested in less, sympathetic to less, desiccating to the point where life itself loses its flavor, and one’s passion for human understanding changes to weariness and distaste.”


This restless vastness of Mailer’s ambition (“In motion a man has a chance”) is such that his “failures” are seminal, his professional setbacks groundbreaking. His willingness to fail — hugely, magnificently, life-affirmingly — expands artistic possibilities. Then, too, point to any contemporary literary trend — the collapse of the novel into memoir; the fictional treatment of actual events; the blurred boundaries of “history as a novel, the novel as history” (the subtitle of “The Armies of the Night”) — and there is Mailer, pioneering, perfecting or pulling apart the form.


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