“America is a hurricane, and the only people who do not hear the sound are those fortunate if incredibly stupid and smug white Protestants who live in the centre, in the serene eye of the big wind.”
The late Norman Mailer was a poseur, a charlatan, a misogynist, a wife-stabber, champion of a murderer, and an all round arse hole (that’s asshole to you yanks): a lot of the time he wasn’t even a particularly good writer. His real role was as a sort of sub-Hemingway boozer, womaniser and (supposed) “tough guy”.
Most of his novels were garbage, with the notable exception of his 1948 World War II masterpiece The Naked and the Dead, which George Orwell considered the best book to have come out of that war. What came afterwards were mainly let-downs. He was, however, an excellent journalist and the pioneer of the “new journalism” usually associated with Tom Wolfe. And (when he wasn’t trying to be a “tough guy”), he could be a very funny guy:
According to Vanessa Thorpe in the Observer, “Only this year, as he waited to take part in a Q&A interview to be carried by Paris Review, he told how he had encountered (Philip) Roth at a urinal during the memorial service for a mutual friend.
“The two heavyweights discussed their shared inability to control their bladders. ‘Phil, sometimes I have to go into a telephone kiosk to pee,’ Mailer commented. ‘You just can’t wait at my age.’
“‘I know’, said Roth, ‘it’s the same with me.’
“‘Well, Mailer told Roth, 74, ‘you always were precocious’.”
The Hitch, whilst fully aware of Mailer’s shortcomings, takes a rather more forgiving view:
“But all this bravado and bullshit and delinquency, including the near-fatal stabbing of one of his wives, only seemed to increase the number of people – including the stabbed wife herself – who found fresh ways of forgiving him. Even Gore Vidal, not a professional forgiver, was once gruffly affectionate about him in my hearing. A slightly schmaltzy way of phrasing this would be to say that Norman Mailer was always somehow life-affirming, and that his justly-famous cocky grin was something that even his enemies had to envy.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, Hitch thinks the 1991 Harlot’s Ghost was “his masterpiece.”