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← Interview with Norman Mailer



Showing Revision 6 created 06/03/2014 by Jonathan Lackman.

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    [TERKEL:] So many questions come up involving you, Norman Mailer, and your part in the literally on-the-scene literary scene of America. We think of what is far and away the most powerful of all World War II novels, The Naked and The Dead. You've had ten pretty hectic years, troubled years, and -- yet I feel, at least I feel as an observer -- growing years. One of the questions, this is sort of a leading question, you can take off from here in any way you feel like: Where do you think the flaw has been, not yours, not the critic's, in the past ten years after the monumental [The] Naked and The Dead. Now, you've had troubles with critics, had differences of opinion, you've tried new approaches and we're coming to the idea of your new approach to the novel, something you mentioned earlier this morning, but what with Barbary Shore and with [The] Deer Park, where do you feel the flaw is in the approach of the critics toward your works since The Naked and The Dead?
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    [MAILER:] Well, I think, to begin with, we'd probably have to talk about critics and book reviewers, because I would say that the critics are more serious, or more elevated shall we say. Generally, probably at least half of them would feel that my later work is better than The Naked and The Dead. It's the book reviewers who've been terribly dissatisfied with what I've done since The Naked and The Dead, and I think a part of that -- assuming for the moment that my last two books aren't bad but really fairly good -- I think that if the fault is theirs, and I'm not the one to be able to decide whether it's my fault or theirs, but if it is theirs, I think it would come out of the way book reviews are written. Because generally what happens is that a man has a, the average book reviewer has anywhere from ten to two or three books to review in a week, and they have to read them and then write reviews about them. Well what happens usually is even when they write a favorable review of a book, they've rarely read more than fifty pages of the book, or else they've read three or four hundred pages of the book, but they've read it in an hour or two, which means they skip. And it's natural in something like, that when a man's doing a daily job, that what he prefers is something which is reasonably routine, so if you get a book, if you get an author who writes books of a certain sort, and they have once or twice read a book of his that they liked very much, then the new book comes along pretty much in the same genre, then they can enjoy it, they can look through it, they can skip through it, and they can feel with a certain amount of reasonable confidence that this book is a little better or a little worse than the last book. They write a good or bad review on that basis. Now it happens that my three novels have all been quite different. Barbary Shore was altogether different from The Naked and The Dead, and The Deer Park was different from either of the first two. And I think what that does is it causes a great irritation and uneasiness in a critic, in a book reviewer, and since book reviewers anyway are people who can well question the reason for their existence, since they almost always started as men who were more serious about literature than they ended up being. You know, they start with the idea that maybe they would write or be serious critics and they end up doing the work that is essentially a hackwork, they are the kind of people who generally don't like to have their authority questioned head on, and so if a book makes them uneasy, they tend to make the natural assumption that it's the fault of the author.
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