THE SPOOKY ART: Some Thoughts on Writing
Although there's some original material, most of Mailer's reflections on the writer's craft have been assembled from decades of interviews, essays, lectures and other sources. As such, despite an effective integration in the earliest sections, most of the book has a scattershot feel. Mailer doesn't exactly offer advice, apart from the occasional warning: "writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable." Instead, in the first half, he teaches by example, providing a self-portrait emphasizing the process of writing some of his earliest novels, including The Naked and the Dead and The Deer Park. Unfortunately, the closer he gets to the present, the less he has to say; later efforts like Tough Guys Don't Dance get little more than a page. Some people will find Mailer's self-assessment grandiose—he compares himself to Picasso repeatedly—but his confidence should hardly surprise anybody at this point. Not even his forceful personality can hold the second half together, though: Tantalizing bits such as a description of his relationship with Kurt Vonnegut as "friendly... but wary," or his insightful reflections on the ways writers might absorb the emotional impact of September 11 without writing about it directly, get buried under meandering ruminations. What he has to say about contemporary literature, like his observation that Jonathan Franzen "writes superbly well sentence for sentence, but yet one is not happy with the achievement," leaves the reader wanting more about books and less, much less, about Last Tango in Paris. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (On sale Jan. 21)
Forecast:No doubt there'll be quite a hoo-ha as the two-time Pulitzer winner turns 80 in 2003, and this book will get some of the attention.