Norman Mailer was one of the world’s preeminent journalists, the winner of two Pulitzers and a co-founder of “New Journalism” – a style he shares with the likes of Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson. He’s a giant in the 20th century literary canon. He also tried to stab his wife to death in full view of dozens of horrified witnesses.
On November 19, 1960, Mailer threw a party to announce that he was running for mayor of New York City. In an attempt to set up a dialog between the rich and the poor, he invited all of the city’s most elite citizens, as well as a whole bunch of homeless people. He got a bit upset when, for some reason, most of the rich people canceled. It turns out that it’s not easy to get Rockefellers, Hearsts, du Ponts, or even Trumps to attend a party where the well liquor is Mad Dog 20/20. Purple flavor, of course. We’re talking about high society here.
As the night wore on, Mailer started getting mean drunk. Eventually, his mortified wife, Adele, stepped in to subdue him, and this escalated into a full-scale screaming match, which ended when Mailer pulled out a two-and-a-half-inch pen knife and stabbed her several times in the chest. Hopefully he had some sort of quip about pens and knives at the ready, but honestly, it was probably all rage-screaming at that point.
Adele survived. She told doctors that she’d “fallen on some glass” and stayed with Mailer for another two years. And literary types spent the next forever carefully debating whether or not Mailer’s genius was “super duper great,” or “just regular great.”
So I continued to write, and as I worked, I learned the taste of a failure over and over again, for the longest individual journey may well be the path from the first creative enthusiasm to the concluded artifact.
Mary McCarthy led a big life full of sex, books, politics and travel. She traded gossip and philosophy with Hannah Arendt. Nora Ephron wrote a play about her feud with Lillian Hellman. The BBC offered her $1000 to box with Norman Mailer on live television.
I take it for granted that there’s a side of me that loves public action, and there’s another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And I’ve learned to alternate the two as matters develop.
It’s too disturbing to read a writer with a good style when you’re in the middle of putting your work together. It’s very much like taking your car apart and having all the pieces on the floor when somebody rides by in a Ferrari. Now, you may hear a note in the Ferrari that isn’t good and say, That motor needs a little tuning. But nonetheless the car is there and yours is on the floor. So while I’m working on a book, I rarely read more than The New York Times.