Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Mailer Is Back

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Mailer Is Back

Article excerpt

Harlot's Ghost was published by Random House on October 2, 1991. The following interview, which took place three months earlier on July 7, was the first one Mailer gave on the completed novel. When it was published, under the title "Mailer's America," in Chicago Tribune Arts on September 29, the editors had reduced it by approximately one-fourth. Before it was submitted, Mailer read the transcript and made a number of small but not insignificant changes, expanding his comments in one place and cutting them back in another, his invariable way of dealing with interviews from the 1950s on. This version is the one he approved before it was submitted.--JML

My wife and I are expected in Provincetown, the resort town at the very tip of Cape Cod, at eleven AM; we arrive close to the hour and are met by Norman Mailer and his wife Norris. After greetings, he asks, "Have you finished it?" referring to Harlot's Ghost, his huge CIA novel due out in October from Random House. It is an unusually cool day in early July and we are standing in Mailer's living room, a large room six steps from Cape Cod Bay. Norris's striking paintings cover the walls. The three-story, red-brick, ivy-covered house stands in a long row of beachfront homes a couple of miles from the end of the last conch-shell curve of the Cape. From his study window on the third floor he can see the full 180 degree curve of shore and bend of bay. The guides on sightseeing buses point out the house and his study window, usually open, to tourists. Mailer has summered in P-Town for more than forty years.

I answer that I finished the bound galleys, all 1344 pages, while riding through Orleans, less than an hour back down the mid-Cape highway. The book's length, I offer, may be an American record, surpassing James Jones's Some Came Running, which weighed in at 1266 pages. Mailer, a longtime communicant in the church of organic form, shrugs off length, but notes that Random House may add a line to each page, thus trimming this novelissimo to a few millimeters under 1300 pages. Part One, that is. Part Two will continue the story of Herrick Hubbard, CIA agent, his father "Cal," also a CIA agent, his godfather Hugh Montague, another CIA agent (code name "Harlot"), and Montague's wife, Kittredge. She too is a CIA agent and, as we learn in the first pages of Part One, later marries young Hubbard. His memoir of the 40s, 50s and early 60s makes up the bulk of Harlot's Ghost. The novel ends with the words "TO BE CONTINUED" and Mailer explains that Part Two will cover the period from 1965-1983. In other words, the time frame of the completed two-part novel will correspond to the span of Mailer's writing life up to the publication of his 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings, set long ago and far away in Egypt. The year that the Egyptian novel was published Mailer said that he thought it was impossible to "write an all-encompassing novel about America." His next novel, Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984), a murder mystery set in P-Town, clearly lacked this ambition.

With the possible exception of Barbary Shore (1951), it received the worst reviews of any of Mailer's books. Then there was a seven-year silence, the longest such stretch in his writing life. Now, at age 68, Mailer is back and, while Harlot's Ghost cannot justly be called an all-encompassing novel of American life, it does provide a privileged perspective on some of the most cataclysmic events and fabled figures of American life after World War II. Like a long freight train, Mailer's story of WASP agents at the heart of intrigues at home and abroad (Berlin, Uruguay, Russia and Cuba) picks up speed and momentum as it snakes through postwar American life, accelerating tremendously as it moves through the CIA's failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the attempts to assassinate Castro and the Cuban missile crisis, and the assassination of J.F.K. Some of Kennedy's extra-marital love affairs comprise another strand of the byzantine plot of deception, betrayal and heroism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.