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There's something really disconcerting about reading the nonfiction of Tom Wolfe and John McPhee wherein they describe events at which they are clearly in attendance but write in the third person.  Someone must be overhearing the conversation that Wolfe so brilliantly reproduces and when folks describe their jobs in a McPhee essay, one assumes they are describing them to McPhee.  Their absence from the text then becomes more intrusive than their presence would be, but, what the hey, they're two of the best writers of non-fiction ever to come down the pike, so we cut them some slack.  Infinitely more annoying is the way that every hack writer on Earth who is assigned to write a profile of someone for a magazine, begins the piece by describing his own first meeting with the subject of the story, as if we freakin' care that the author ordered the shitaki on melba toast and Demi was ten minutes late for the interview.  But topping them all for the most aggravating technique ever created is Norman Mailer who decided to include himself in his nonfiction but to write about himself in the third person, as "the reporter."  This is not only a distraction when you are reading, it also just smacks of egotism run amok.  Of course, this is Norman Mailer, the biggest publicity whore this side of Madonna, so that's exactly what it is, the attention grabbing stunt of a completely self-absorbed horse's rump.

That said, he does make for an irreverent, even ribald, chronicler of the 1968 conventions.  His celebrity opened doors for him and gave him access to the placid doings of the GOP conclave in Miami and to the Democratic melee in Chicago.  He uses his own distinctive patois of street tough language, acerbic commentary and apocalyptic hyperbole to recreate the mood, if not the actual events of the two conventions.  But his analysis of events is completely laughable, teetering between the merely absurd and the genuinely deluded.  Naturally, he revels in both the counter culture demonstrations in Chicago and in the somewhat heavy-handed response of Mayor Daley's police and the National Guard.  Like Charlie Manson believing that Helter Skelter would bring about the revolution, Mailer thought that this kind of confrontation and the reaction it provoked revealed something about the strength of the youth movement on the one hand and weakness of American institutions on the other.  In fact, these were pretty much the death throes of '60s radicalism.  Just a few months later the American people would go to the polls and elect Richard Nixon, largely on the understanding that he would restore law and order to American society.  And though his margin of victory was quite thin, it must be recalled that George Wallace received 13.5% of the vote; and I think it's safe to say that his voters disagreed with the kids who tried shutting down Chicago.  Even as Mailer was predicting a new and glorious phase in some kind of class struggle, the electorate, the "silent majority" of Nixon's acceptance speech, was preparing to repudiate the radical movement by a truly staggering margin.

Interestingly, Mailer accidentally offers intimations of what was going on in the rest of the country when he is too revealing about what was going on within himself.  The two most honest moments in the book are when he expresses how sick he is of listening to the demands of Black leaders:

    [T]he reporter became aware after a while of a curious emotion in himself, for he had not ever
    felt it consciously before--it was a simple emotion and very unpleasant to him--he was getting
    tired of Negroes and their rights.  It was a miserable recognition, and on many a count, for if even
    he felt this way, then what immeasurable tides of rage must be loose in America itself?

Note both the utter condescension to the unwashed masses and the visceral sense that things had gone far enough.  Add in the fact that most Americans were also sick of listening to limousine liberals like Norman Mailer tell them what to do, when they knew perfectly well that he felt like this in his heart of hearts, and the rage is only compounded.  Mailer's slip peeks out again during the violence in Chicago when he acknowledges an illicit thrill at watching the police hammer protesters into submission.  These instances offer him a chance to understand what is truly going on in the country, but his knees jerk and he goes right back to singing a Dionysian song of praise to the scum in the streets.

A journalist who gets so involved in a story that he misjudges it by as much as Mailer did is hardly worthy of the title.  Instead, the author was a partisan observer whose analytical skills appear to be nonexistent and whose judgment appears to have been clouded by emotion, but whose hands on approach to the story makes for a whiff of the atmospherics of the time and some mildly interesting moments.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

See also:

Norman Mailer (3 books reviewed)
Politics
Norman Mailer Links:

    -INTERVIEW: Norman Mailer Ruminates on Literature and Life (NY Times, 1/22/2003)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Norman (Kingsley) Mailer (1923-)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "norman mailer"
    -Featured Author: Norman Mailer  (From the Archives of The New York Times)
    -NY Review of Books Archives: "Mailer"
    -Salon Archives: Norman Mailer
    -REVIEW: Norman Mailer: A Man Half Full, NY Review of Books
       A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
    -ESSAY: Who's Afraid of Tom Wolfe?  (Mary Ann Glendon, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Huckleberry Finn, Alive at 100 ( Norman Mailer, December 9, 1984, NY Times Book Review)
    -LETTER: A Critic with Balance: A Letter From Norman Mailer (NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOKNOTES: Author: Norman Mailer Title: Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (Air date: June 25, 1995, CSPAN)
    -INTERVIEW: The Old Man and the Novel (Scott Spencer, NY times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : with Norman Mailer (Poets & Writers)
    -Norman Mailer His Life And Works
    -At Random Magazine: Norman Mailer
    -KC's Norman Mailer Page
    -New York State Writers Institute - Norman Mailer
    -PAL: Norman Mailer (1923-)( Perspectives in American Literature:  A Research and Reference Guide)
    -From The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story: Norman Mailer   (1923 -   )
    -Readers Choice: Norman Mailer
    -Arguing the World: New York Intellectuals (PBS)
    -PROFILE: NORMAN MAILER (Anna Banks)
    -PROFILE: My moment with Mailer:  After 50 years, two Pulitzers, 31 books, and a sheaf of headlines, Norman Mailer's still promising us the big one (Chris Wright, Boston Phoenix)
    -BOOK SITE: Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer
    -ESSAY: THE STRANGE CASE OF THE WRITER AND THE CRIMINAL (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: MAILER TALKING (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Norman Mailer: 50 Years of Writing (Robert Powers, Suite101.com)
    -ESSAY: Autobiography and the 'I' of the Beholder (Wendy Lesser, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Mailer vs. Greer: The bout that wasn't (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -ESSAY:  HEROISM IN A POLITICALLY CORRECT AGE (Norman Podhoretz, National Review)
    -ESSAY: 'Naked and Dead' at 50: Mailer's a boor, a buffoon  This 'Energizer Bunny from hell' is out with a 1,280-page anthology that reveals his arrogance and irresponsibility. (Tess Lewis, Baltimore Sun)
    -ESSAY: It is absurd to claim that men are the real victims of oppression  'It was always odd that Norman Mailer became so inextricably identified with the sexual revolution'  (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Independent UK)
    -ESSAY : Five Novembers (Keith Gessen, Feed Mag)
    -ARTICLE: Mailer Visits C.I.A. and Finds He's in Friendly Territory. Really. (ELAINE SCIOLINO, Special to The New York Times)
    -REVIEW: of Jun 20, 1968 Conor Cruise O'Brien: Confessions of the Last American, NY Review of Books
       The Armies of the Night: History As Novel; The Novel As History by Norman Mailer
    -REVIEW: of The Naked and the Dead (DAVID DEMPSEY , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Executioner's Song (Joan Didion, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Executioner's Song (Erik Lundegaard)
    -REVIEW: of The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer (J. Bottum, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer Dissatisfied with the four Gospels, Norman Mailer produces his own account of the life of Jesus (Paul Galloway / Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: May 15, 1997 Frank Kermode: Advertisement for Himself, NY Review of Books
       The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer
    -REVIEW: of IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST Letters from Prison. By Jack Henry Abbott. Introduction by Norman Mailer (Terrence Des Pres, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of PIECES AND PONTIFICATIONS By Norman Mailer (Edward Hoagland, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE TIME OF OUR TIME. By Norman Mailer (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE TIME OF OUR TIME By Norman Mailer (James Shapiro, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MAILER A Biography. By Hilary Mills (Mark Harris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Mailer A Biography. By Mary V. Dearborn (Caleb Crain, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Mailer: A Biography By Mary V. Dearborn (LEONARD KRIEGEL, The Forward)
    -REVIEW: of Mailer: A Biography By Mary V. Dearborn (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of MAILER: His Life and Times. By Peter Manso (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of MAILER His Life and Times. By Peter Manso (Barbara Goldsmith, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Last Party Scenes From My Life With Norman Mailer. By Adele Mailer (M. G. Lord, NY Times Book Review)    -REVIEW: May 9, 1948 The Dusty Answer of Modern War (DAVID DEMPSEY, NY Times)
    -The Revolution in Journalism with an Emphasis on the 1960's and 1970's (Belinda Carberry)
    -Great Expectations: Why is Norman Mailer still Famous?  (Terry Teachout, National Review)
    -Twilight of the Old Goats--Mailer, Roth and Bellow refuse to go quietly  (D.T. MAX, Salon)
    -Beat the Devil (LOUIS MENAND, NY Review of Books)
    -Keeping Up With Norman Mailer (THOMAS R. EDWARDS , NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Mailer: A Biography By Mary V. Dearborn  A Frank Look at a Literary Giant
(Steve Weinberg, Iron Minds)

CONVENTIONS
    -Retrospective: Going Back to Chicago (The Newshour, PBS)
    -ABC News.com: Rewind 1968: Democratic National Convention
    -1968 -- The Convention That Rocked a Profession's Conscience (John Simpson)
    -Chicago 1968 Democratic National Convention: An Introduction
    -ESSAY: Grooving in Chi (Terry Southern, November 1968, Esquire)

Comments:

i hate this book!!!

- brandy

- Dec-01-2003, 20:11

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