Monday, November 12, 2007

The Naked and the Dead

Another of the American literary lions gone ... Norman Mailer died Saturday (November 10). While he was particularly a giant in his own mind, with a legendary ego (six wives!), Mailer did indeed loom large over the literary landscape of 20th century America.

Mailer wanted to write the Great American Novel, and tome after tome made the attempt, but many of the obits note that Mailer will be remembered for his non-fiction, including his pivotal role in "the new journalism" aka the non-fiction novel, creative non-fiction, literary non-fiction, narrative non-fiction (choose your term!). His two Pulitzer Prizes came for non-fiction works: The Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner's Song (1979).

Even what many consider his best novel, his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948) is based on his own war experience in the South Pacific in the Second World War. Published when Mailer was only 25 years old, The Naked and the Dead is considered one of the very best WWII novels. The Modern Library ranked it at #51 in their list of the Best 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Despite being forcedby his publisher to have his infantrymen characters use the made-up expletive "fug" (instead of, well, the favoured army expletive!), the novel was groundbreaking for its realistic depiction of men at war, in this case a platoon of Americans fighting the Japanese on a South Pacific island. Highly recommended, especially in this week after Remembrance Day.

With Mailer joining Saul Bellow (RIP 2005) and Kurt Vonnegut (2007) in the literary afterlife, the mantle of Grand Old Man of Letters passes to Gore Vidal. At 82 Vidal is one of the last of the generation born in the 1920s, along with William Kennedy (Ironweed) who is 79. From the 1930s generation there are a number of lions still with us, many of whom are still writing great books:
Some great obituaries, mostly laudatory (most mention his many sins!):

Mortality disgusts us, on occasion. We needed Mailer, and still do - he fought hard, he was brave, and flawed and luminous. Mailer once said, "Every moment of one's existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit." We have died, this month, a little more.

1 Comments:

Blogger Libarbarian said...

A friend points out that J.D. Salinger, born in 1919, outranks Gore Vidal by 6 years (born 1925) in the literary lions stakes. But Salinger hasn't published anything since 1965 vs Vidal's continuing output...

11:26 AM  

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