I'm a big fan of Mailer, who means to be infuriating. He can get away with all sorts of gaucheries and vulgarisms and hateful overt conceit, because he comes up with so many things nobody, including oneself, ever seems to think of articulating. I'm almost through with 'Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man' and thoroughly respect it, finding it literally transforming, as do I his much-maligned 'Marilyn'. He's an egomaniac, but so what? What genius isn't, it's just expressed in different forms of crudeness or seeming smoothness, or even false modesty? He can write real fiction and semi-fiction, which a lot of people who have gotten famous for either or both cannot do.
I also like ‘The Deer Park’ and parts of ‘An American Dream,’ but I especially admire Mailer’s non-fiction. He’s great on stuff like the moon shot, the march on Washington, and political conventions. As you say, he gets away with all manner of fatuities because just as he’s annoying you with something outrageous or just silly he produces in the next paragraph or even sentence an insight that will knock you over. (“Marilyn” is full of such passages – both kinds.) There’s gold in them thar hills, even if it does take a lot of digging on occasion.
Thank you for the link. I was struck by this paragraph:
But exactly how does his novel advance our understanding? By leading us into the mind of an unlovable child who gets physically excited by the sight of bees being incinerated alive and masturbates to the sound of his father's hemorrhagic coughing, is Mailer asserting that we begin to understand Hitler as we see that the evil acts of the grown man are no different in kind—though vastly different in scale—from the acts of his childhood self, both being the expression of a tangled psychopathology, ugly to the point of devilishness? Is he hereby in effect restating in different terms Dostoevsky's point that there are no great crimes, that the criminal's fantasy of grandeur is just another of the heresies of atheism? Is all evil in essence banal, and do we fall into one of the devil's cunning traps when we treat evil respectfully, take it seriously?
He should indeed get the Nobel, and they better hurry up, although he looks and sounds full of beans these days, going by interviews.
I didn't actually intend to recommend Pynchon's new book. He is not a favorite of mine and I would never urge anyone to rush out and buy even Gravity's Rainbow without at least peeking at a library copy first. On the other hand, when he produces a book it's news, so I thought I'd post an alert. Any Pynchon fans out there should please offer their opinions.