i have- quite late in the day for one writing a biography of jackie onassis- come to the late memoirs of the late gore vidal.
(4 april 2010)
and yes, he may or may not have been married to three women simultaneously and undoubtedly stabbed one. and he did a biographical hatchet job on my dear marilyn. and he justified adultery as “literary research” and on top of that he was a horrible misogynistic bastard. yes, yes, yes. i get all that.
but then there is this: “the night would end on the floor of her living room. he promised to write…”
this makes me kind of love norman mailer. partly because the man knew how to end an evening, but more so because he promised to write. and, really, that’s all a girl needs. the promise of writing. who even cares if it comes true.
(10 november 2007)
and i don’t quite know what to make of this other than the fact that it makes me kind of sad.
yes, you held some beliefs that were total bunk. you exploited marilyn as a biographical sex-toy. you crusaded against the women’s liberation movement. you participated in a literary smackdown with gore vidal. you had nine chidren and six wives, the second of which you stabbed.
as if this weren’t enough of a biographical legacy, in your neediness and contrivance towards the hemmingway masculine ideal, you cultivated a belligerent literary machismo that was debilitatively seared across everything you ever wrote.
despite the feigned nonchalance, you so obviously wanted to be remembered. you so obviously needed to be a big deal. the footfall of your every stomping sentence gave you up.
you never seemed quite real. you always were a bastard.
but i’m a girl who likes bad boys and if they have a way with the pen, that’s better and better.
60 years ago, you emerged as the enfant terrible of the american literary scene and set out to write The Great American Novel. perusing your obituaries this morning, it seems to be the general consensus that you never did. but does that really matter?
in graduate school, my biography class covered the lost art of obituaries. the first line is crucial. you can fumble your way on the rest, blithely romping through schooling and careers and wives and honorary doctorates, but you can’t fake that first line. that first line is a bitch.
it’s a bitch i think you, norman mailer, would’ve enjoyed slapping around. and i think even you- the combative tease, the unremitting bombast, the cocksure grump with dialectic derring-do- would be satisfied with the title history has bestowed upon you.
the macho prince of american letters.
well played, norman mailer, you bastard you.
(17 may 2007)
lee harvey oswald is of little concern to me beyond the fact that he became a political assassin at the age of twenty-four (a historical fact all too often obscured by a receding hairline). i believe oswald killed kennedy, that he did it alone and that the grassy knoll is a load of bunk. and i abhor oliver stone for ever convincing me otherwise.
so i’m not quite sure what compelled me to pick up oswald’s tale. because norman mailer and i don’t really get along. he’s played dirty with my girls and you can’t just forgive a guy that. but still… a girl does like to forgive.
i have this suspicion that good old norman mailer isn’t really a bastard. he’s just a guy who was unfortunately born after ernest hemingway and who has spent his entire career trying to strut a literary machismo of equivalent value. and that’s tough. as norman mailer has illustrated.
norman mailer so desperately wants to be a bastard. his neediness is discomfiting. you can see it right there on the page. in the way he swaggers about, cocksure in his dialectic derring-do. strutting his syntactical anarchy. it’s in the laziness of his transitions, the ballast of his phrasing, the sly jabs of his judgments.
he comes off as the kind of guy that slaps his women and keeps a rifle by the nightstand and boxing gloves on the bedpost. or at least he comes off as being the kind of guy who wants to come off as that kind of guy. norman mailer wants the world to believe he is a bastard. his every word is a naked testament to this need.
which is kind of sad. and which, once we got past the honeymoon period, has annoyed me on nearly every single page of oswald’s tale. i want to say, norman mailer, stop being a bastard.
because norman mailer is being a bastard. and honestly, i don’t know if norman mailer is telling the truth anymore. if he’s really being norman mailer and norman mailer really is a bastard or if he’s writing as he thinks Norman Mailer Writing As A Bastard & Great Masculine Writer of the 1950s would write. and that, in turn, makes me doubt whether norman mailer actually spoke to all the people he says he spoke to and whether he actually has any clue what happened with oswald in russia and, in the pits of untrusting despair, i can’t help but wonder whether this whole 719-page pulitzer prize winning masterwork is the figment of a deranged historical revisionist, which makes me want to throw down the mammoth thing and scream norman mailer, you bastard you.
because this bastard can write. it’s just that his writing is wrapped up in brawn and testosterone and spit. it’s a splashy cocktail of aggression that leaves me longing to put on a diaphanous gown and marabou shoes and drink daquaris in feminine rebellion. because really, deep down, i think it’s all a pose.
i think secretly norman mailer rises early in the morning to make pancake breakfasts for his unfortunately named wife norris. that he has a persian cat named fifi whom he worships and who stars in the occasional short story he pens for his grandchildren who call him “paw-paw.” that he secretly gets a kick out of wearing pink argyle socks. that he licks the lids of his jell-o swirl pudding snacks and separates the chocolate 2/3s from the vanilla. that he’s fearfully afraid of needles and slugs and that they make him squeal like a little girl and that he’s fearfully afraid people will find that out.
i don’t think norman mailer is a bastard. because i don’t think men who dedicate books to their wives can be bastards. at least not real ones. no, i think he’s lying to us all. norman mailer, you bastard you.