Magazine article The Spectator

American Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

American Notebook

Article excerpt

To New York, for a benefit gala at Cipriani 42nd Street for the Norman Mailer Centre and Writers Colony. We are there as a team to present British GQ's first student writing award to a 65-year-old mother of two:

Helen Madden, who presented the children's TV show Romper Room in the early 1970s and still looks about 40. She wrote the winning story, 'Rod, Roy and Jerry Lee', while doing a creative writing MA at Queen's University in Belfast, and its hearty nature appealed to almost everyone on the panel of judges. Tina Brown, Jann Wenner, and the super-cool Gay Talese were all in evidence, along with Taki, Michael Wolff, the irrepressible Larry Schiller and Mailer's beautiful widow Norris. When I asked Tom Wolfe how his new novel was coming on, he said, 'If it's not finished next year I'm going to be spurting blood instead of ink.'

As part of her prize, Helen spent a month this summer in the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the place that Mailer called home. I spent a night in Mailer's house, sleeping in his bed and reading a first edition of Tough Guys Don't Dance, which is set in Provincetown. That night I'd spent an hour upstairs, rooting around his studio, which has been kept exactly as Mailer left it before he died. This room at the top of the stairs is the house's holy grail, the place where the heavyweight champion of the word wrote his books, where he crafted many of the convoluted, Thesaurus-combed pieces that made him famous, where he spent his days trying to conjure up a book that would generate as much acclaim as The Naked and the Dead or Ancient Evenings. Here you'll find old manuscripts, the daybed where he would take naps, unopened packs of highlighter pens, his rocking chair, the plastic clothes hangers on which he'd hang his blazers, and a multi-gym he used only once, but which was too heavy to dismantle. The detritus in his studio shows his propensity for exhaustive research, and the room is still littered with books he was using for his uncompleted Third Reich tome. I also found a huge magnifying glass;

research papers would be photocopied twice the size so he could read them, while his handwritten pages would be faxed to his secretary in NY to type up. As you walk up the stairs to his studio, the first thing you see is a Bellevue Hospital sign. Mailer was sent there in 1960 after he stabbed his second wife with a penknife, nearly killing her; he wanted to be reminded every day of the awful thing he did.

The new thing in New York is the food mall, and the hottest one is Eataly (see what they did there? …

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