Saturday, November 10, 2007

As you must know ...

... Norman Mailer has died. I have not been blogging because I am at the office working my predecessor, Mike Schaffer, who is writing an obit for tomorrow's paper. Here is nice roundup and more: Norman Mailer, 1923-2007.

I will add a sort of indirect personal reminiscence. One of my best friends in college was a fellow named Bill McLaughlin. He was the editor of the college's literary magazine. He wrote to Mailer, then riding a second wave of notoriety thanks to Advertisements for Myself. Mailer did not simply answer Bill's letter, with pro forma thanks, etc. He sent a two-page single-spaced reply. It was the start of an exchange that continued, as far as I know, until Bill's untimely death in a car crash not long after we graduated. I've always thought it was pretty classy of Mailer, as famous as any author at the time, taking the time to write to a kid at a small Catholic college about what it takes to be a writer. I trust he and Bill have already met up and are exchanging views once more.
That said, I should add that I was never much of a fan of the man or his writing myself. His best novel was his first and it's not as good as James Jones's From Here to Eternity.


  1. Nice post, Frank. Another author like this is Maeve Binchy -- she is mega-selling but she always responds and helps writers and many others. I am always so impressed by her kindness.

    Nice to read about Mailer, I did struggle through a couple of his books when I was much younger, but concluded they were not for me, so I cannot add an intelligent comment about him as a writer.

  2. Philip1:34 PM

    Mailer was probably never much of a fan of you or your writing either.

  3. Philip1:58 PM

    Though that's probably unfair, as it's based on the assumption that he'd have known about you and your writing.
    If directly after you die, I wonder will someone write about something decent you'd done, and then, presumably under the impression that they had now earned the right, sign off with a mean-spirited comment about not being much of a fan of yours?

  4. Philip, I can't imagine that anyone would bother to write anything about me after I die. Like all of us, Mailer was not of a piece. He was, by all accounts, a splendid parent. As my anecdote indicated, he could be very generous - in the true sense, without anything for him to gain by being generous. None of this has to do with the quality of his writing and none of it cancels out his other, less attractive qualities. Perhaps if he had focused on writing instead being a writer he would have been a better writer. All that I said was that I was not a fan. As for the time factor, that is why I have not linked to Roger Kimball's piece. By the way, the two selections from Mailer's writings that accompanied The Inquirer's obit were chosen by me - and I think they are examples of him at his best.

  5. I've enjoyed reading the odd personal stories people have of Mailer--yours about your friend does show him in a very good light.

    The bits of his writing I've read have always been a struggle, seeming not to my inclination, but a good friend with reliable taste swears that The Executioner's Song will reward my time, so someday I'll give it a serious try.

    (By the way: I know this isn't how you meant it, but it's not too damning to say that something's not as good as From Here to Eternity--that's truly comparing it to the best. The only WWII novel I can think of that comes close is James Gould Cozzens's Guard of Honor.)

  6. Philip4:13 AM

    What you mostly wrote was fine, Frank, but I think in a kind of obituary piece one should be content to leave it be as such rather than the conclusion which I already mentioned & also using the occasion to mention who you consider to be a better writer. You presumably wouldn't write a piece on the day of death of a fellow blogger & finish off by saying that someone else's blog was much better. Time & place.

  7. Well, Philip, you're probably right. In fact, I should perhaps have kept the judgment to myself. I still haven't linked to the Kimball piece.