Page 4


PRINTING and PUBLISHING FFUTURA PRESS INC Hickory 2-8682 Hickory 2-2426 1714 SOUTH CONGRESS AVENUE P. 0. BOX 3485 AUSTIN, TEXAS Cease Fire, Dreamer AN AMERICAN DREAM, Norman Mailer, Dial Press, $4.95. Austin If a promoter shaped up a good contemporary equivalent of the Peking-to-Paris automobile race of 1907say, composing a pornographic novel and recording it on tape while descending in free fall from fifty thousand feetthe odds are good that Norman Mailer would be there to pick up the challenge. He couldn’t resist. He would turn up unannounced as the cocky runt ready to take on the pros with all fheir years of training. And he would also walk in with fanfares as the heavylimbed, laconic, faintly weazening champion come back to defend the title that can never be hisnot his to possess honorably as a trophy beyond challenge and fear of loss. These two Mailer twins, not identical yet deeply entangled in each other’s affairs, are forever running into each other on a street corner and making the headlines the next day. Here we have the only living writer who embodies, in one person, in one name, both David and Goliath. Literature as single combat can go no further without exposing itself as elaborately staged shadow boxing. The title and flag-target motif on the jacket of Mailer’s new novel are appropriate in a way that makes me want to weep for all boy writers that grow up to be warriors. An American Dream appeared and collected garlands of snarls and smiles exactly at the moment when the United States escalated its Viet Nam military aid to include bombings north of the seventeenth parallel. Every reflection on this This piece by one of the Observer’s contributing editors also appeared in the Village Voice, the Greenwich Village weekly. 30 The Texas Observer SUBSCRIBE OR RENEW THE TEXAS OBSERVER 504 West 24th Street Austin 5, Texas Enclosed is $5.00 for a oneyear subscription to the Observer for: Name Address City, State 0 This is a renewal. 0 This is a new subscription. Roger Shattuck novel’s characters and actions, every attempt to estimate the great and empty urgency that boils up out of its style, leads me back to the role we have grimly shouldered in Southeast Asia. I shall have to come back to Viet Nam. STEVE ROJACK, New York celebrity-intellectual, murders his heiress wife one night of sudden reckoning after having been half separated from her for a year. He camouflages the crime as a suicide by heaving the body out the window into the East River Drive ten stories below. Though the two police detectives suspect the truth, they never get beyond lengthy and probing interrogations of Rojack. At the start they haven’t put together the evidence; later they have been called off from “higher up” because of Deborah’s suggested dabbling in international spy rings and because her big-wig father runs the country’s under-over-world from the Waldorf Towers. In the thirty some hours following the crime, Rojack ricochets through two fornications \(two savage, two erable booze, searing telephone conversations with the outriders of his existence, and one long confrontation with his father-in-law. Barney Oswald Kelly cannot persuade Rojack to attend the funeral in order to maintain a flawless public appearance for the family. They proceed to mutual confessionKelly that he seduced his daughter when she was fifteen, Rojack that he killed her. A little later in that Waldorf Towers suite, Rojack screws up his courage to pit himself against the lunar forces by walking all the way around the parapet of the balcony. Kelly tries to push him over the edge and fails. Rojack flees back to his new girlfriend, a white Southern girl become night-club singer who “makes it with spades” in her lower East Side flat. He finds she has been mauled and killed as a result of his having beaten up her ex-lover, the stud Negro singer, Shago Martin. The cops console Rojack in a bar. The next we hear of him he has raked in twenty-four grand at the tables in Las Vegas and is about to take off for the jungles of Yucatan. Let me not hide the fact that this novel holds pages of taut narrative, of dialogue that contrives to crackle and probe, and of remarkably lyric writing. Mailer grants us entry into the reality of certain moments and into the soul of his characters through the sense of smell. Odors crisp and corrupt come swirling off this cauldron of a book more convincingly than from any other narrative that I can think of including Celine and Burroughs. Beneath a toilet water of punctilio and restraint \(a mixture of cologne and limewater which off Kelly, a hint of a big foul cat, carnal as the meat on a butcher’s block, and something else, some whiff of the icy rot and iodine in a piece of marine nerve left to bleach on the sand. With it all was that congregated odor of the wealthy, a mood within the nose of face powder, of perfumes which leave the turpentine of a witch’s curse, the taste of pennies in the mouth, a whiff of the tomb. It was all of Deborah for me. Such a nose hunts unerringly into bars and bedrooms where money, sex, and power fuse into one flamelike experience. Rojack’s private dreads and suicidal tendencies in the face of it only underline his megalomania. “Making it” in this novel refers to that moment certified by the unknown of love, when one achieves metaphysical orgasm for God, for country, and for race. One looks back in astonishment to see that Mailer has almost carried it off by sheer rhetorical bravado. But he cannot hold it together. Probably the Esquire deadline tempted him to fall back on the Candy-James Bond stereotype. Rojack walks on stage in conventionalized hero’s regalia; the cops are gamey and worldly wise. For a time you wonder if Mailer isn’t spoofing the spoofers in an elaborate literary masquerade and entertainment. \(Rojack’s light o’love anct his true love are called, respectively, “Ruta” tation won’t stick even if that was the idea that originally tickled Mailer’s brain. He forgets the game, starts playing for keeps, and forever puts on a long face about sex. We are a long way, for instance, from Henry Miller, who chortles his way through every erotic moment even though, in the next line, he may tell us, dead pan, that he’s Rimbaud’s nephew. FINALLY we have to face the fact that Rojack committed murder; the book appears to relate the consequences of that action. In Crime and Punishment, a story that can be laid end to end with Mail