Monday, September 29, 2008

author, author!!

by Adam Begley September 29, 2008
Of all the extraordinary items in the selection from Norman Mailer’s correspondence served up in the Oct. 6 issue of The New Yorker, perhaps the most astonishing is the letter Mailer wrote to Don DeLillo in 1988, when Libra (Penguin, $15), Mr. DeLillo’s novel about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, had just been published. Mailer, who was 65 at the time, and writing to a younger, less famous novelist, is generous, accurate, revealing, insightful, characteristically feisty and very nearly humble, all in 200-odd words:
“What a terrific book. I have to tell you that I read it against the grain. I’ve got an awfully long novel going on the CIA, and of course it overlapped just enough that I kept saying, ‘this son of a bitch is playing my music,’ but I was impressed, damned impressed, which I very rarely am. I think we keep ourselves writing by allowing the core of our vanity never to be scratched if we can help it, but I didn’t get away scot-free this time. Wonderful virtuoso stuff all over the place, and, what is more, I think you’re fulfilling the task we’ve just about all forgotten, which is that we’re here to change the American obsessions—those black holes in space—into mantras that we can live with. What you’ve given us is a comprehensible, believable, vision of what Oswald was like, and what Ruby was like, one that could conceivably have happened. Whether history will find you more wrong than right is hardly to the point: what counts is that you brought life back to a place in our imagination that has been surviving all these years like scorched earth, that is, just about. It’s so rare when novel writing offers us this deep purpose and I swear, Don, I salute you for it.”

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