Saturday, November 29, 2008

Peter Manso: notes of a displeased groupie



Author Peter Manso published a highly readable oral history of his then-hero and mentor Norman Mailer in the '80's titled " Mailer: His Life and Times". Manso, a good writer in all other respects, has republished the book with a 44 page afterword in which he repays the insult Mailer had paid him when it turned out the biography displeased him greatly. Mailer and Manso were close friends during the eighties, with Manso admitting as much that he was , more or less, Mailer's acolyte. The pair even shared a beach front house in Provincetown , MA. Mailer had written to the local paper ""P.D. Manso is looking for gold in the desert of his arid inner life, where lies and distortions are the only cactus juice to keep him going."

Ouch, that hurts. But what puzzles me is that Peter Manso has seemingly nurtured the hurt for over thirty years and now takes a few too many pages to give his account, share gossip, insult Mailer friends. The aggrieved author seems less a wounded innocent than a gold digging punk . The lesson, I suppose, is that one ought not live with their heroes.

I'd agree that Manso's Mailer biography is a fascinating read as far as it goes; it's hard to go astray when you've a group of interesting people giving an intimate account of a singularly intriguing and often brilliant personality like Mailer. But based on this, Manso's introduction to the new edition just sounds like 44 pages of sour grape he wants everyone to take a sip from. The problem with having heroes who embody every virtue and ambition one wants to cultivate for their own is that heroes will betray you, intentionally or otherwise. I've no idea what went on between the two men while they occupied that beach front property, but it's very possible Mailer had other things he wanted to do besides listen the sound and sight of a dedicated fan- boy sucking up; perhaps Manso crossed over from being a mere acolyte and exhibited a malignant sycophancy. Or maybe not; Manso would have served himself better getting over a three-decade old slight and finessed his remarks a tad more. It was Mailer's particular genius to make himself , as subject, fascinating in ways a reader wouldn't have suspected. That same talent isn't Manso's. Would that he merely republished his worthy oral history and gone onto another book.
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As noted in an anonymous and unfriendly post below, I  erred and called Mailer's adopted hometown of Provincetown, Ma. Providence, Rhode Island.  He got me there. The main post is corrected.--tb