Monday, December 31, 2007

R.I.P. 2007

Norman Mailer became famous at age 25 with his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, about World War II. Being famous and in that strata of people and events helped define his life. I became aware of him in the 1960s, when he was a frequent guest on TV talk shows (yes, they had actual authors talking at length in those days, not just plugging a book) and was writing about politics. I marched with him (without ever seeing him, of course) at the Pentagon in 1968, the sort of subject of his famous "non-fiction novel," The Armies of the Night.

I was impressed by his passionate defense of writer Henry Miller against the attacks of Kate Millet in the first wave of womens lib. It got me to read Miller. I liked hearing him talk, and reading his essays, as in Advertisements for Myself. I somehow understood the writer's insecurity which came across as ego, though there was a lot about him I didn't understand.

I was impressed by his belief in The Novel, and in the quest to write a great one. I didn't actually read much of his fiction, though. Some of what he said and wrote remain guideposts for me to this day. And a lot I take seriously, and admire for his intellectual courage, but can't go there with him.

In his late 80s he remained thoughtful, lucid and impressive in interviews. He kept writing to the end, and was embarked on an immense project of fiction that he felt was his truest work. That's a good way for a writer to go.
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