Thursday, December 7, 2006
New Mailer Due
Norman Mailer is due to have his latest novel , The Castle in the Forest, published on his 84th birthday in January; it's about the life of the young Adolph Hitler, narrated by a top lieutenant of The Devil.The philandering and rationalized dysfunctions characterizing prevailing Hitler Family Values in the future Fuhrer's early life gives us a vivid, arresting depiction of the making of a Monster.Incident after incident, ranging from his father Alois's incestuous infidelities the youth's rapt fascination in a village blacksmith's theories on how a Will Of Iron is galvanized, Mailer's use of the narrating demon gives a feeling of when the worm had turned.
It's good, wonderfully seductive, a tale you can't turn away from. Among Mailer's life long themes has been various examinations of the gaining and use of power, for purposes good or ill, and The Castle in the Forest's imagined portrait of a world scourge emerging from a festering mess will give one something to ponder , perhaps in a pause of action when one is deciding whether to be a bastard by exacting a revenge for a slight, real or imagined, or whether will be mature enough to let the irritation fade and thus not make the world a more sour place. The beating of butterfly wings indeed; our good works, enacted in good faith, has an effect on how history turns out, but the sad fact is that our worst deeds seem to swell faster and sweep aside all good intentions in their tsunami like rush.
At heart, Mailer is right about journalism being mostly bad writing, but it's worth nothing that some of Mailer's most praised books have been produced under the loud and loathsome shadow of deadline. Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago and most his novelesque journalism are what many consider to be Mailer's best period, and it may said that the brazen and often spectacular results of his work-for-hire supports his suspicions that he was the best writer of his generation. Quick, expensive remarks said in haste, with a particular habit of mind that could make the incidental bit of crankiness into something more memorable. But Mailer is a singular talent and his gifts are not given to the hard sifting, grilling and grind that a professional reporter must do as part of his their daily professional lives; Mailer at heart remains the critic, the observer, the fancier of the behavior of men in large crowds jockeying for advantage. It wouldn't be inaccurate to describe much of Mailer's journalism as one comedy of manners after another, Ala Trollope or Jane Austin; what he couldn't reveal as scandal or creeping evil could be suggested with his fiction-wrting gifts in the telling detail, the deft psychology of characters through the subtle reading of how the actors carried themselves.
Mailer has remarked that he considered "the Internet the biggest waste of time since masturbation", but it's likely that he would have taken to blogging if he were younger. Certainly, it fits what had been his preference to send dispatches from the front lines of an event, and it would have given instant and unlimited access to an audience that wanted to hear his unique and twisting views. Blogging itself is an even faster generator of bad writing than traditional print media--I include myself in each and every crime against syntax committed for the sake of getting my name on one more web page--but it's a safe guess that Mailer would have excelled in the medium just as he excelled in print. Or maybe not; Mailer writes in longhand, and submits it to an assistant for typing. After that, the manuscript is poured over again for editing. Knowing this, you wonder if Mailer had ever learned how to type. Perhaps that will be an issue that will be addressed in a future doctoral thesis.