Saturday, 29 December 2012

Norman Mailer- An American Dream

An American Dream
Norman Mailer
1965

“The feeling of joy came up in me again the way the lyric of a song might remind a man on the edge of insanity that soon he will be insane again and there is a world there more interesting than his own.” 

Despite the fact that my pile of unread books is usually long enough to keep me preoccupied for many, many months, I'm always on the look out for books and authors to add to a mental list of future exploration. There's a massive allure of coolness with certain authors and their time periods that keeps me hooked, partially based on the style alone. I just bought a calendar with famous authors on it (because I'm a nerd), and January has a cool black and white picture of Jack London, so now I want to read Jack London. I'm kind of shallow like that.

Anyway, for a long time, Norman Mailer was just a name and its reputation for me, but a name that led me to imagine a great big bibliography for me to eventually get around to and enjoy. An American Dream was the first book I came across, and ended up being the perfect start, turning out to be an incredibly stylish, individual, downbeat and compelling story. It fits into its own place in US literary history perfectly, and I enjoyed it for many of the same reasons I enjoy Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Bukowski; though with its own special brilliance.

Originally released in 1965 as a series of installments for Esquire, An American Dream follows the story of former congressman and current television star Stephen Rojack, who, at the beginning of this relatively short book, murders his estranged wife and appears to get away with it, and spends the next two hundred pages or so spiraling into a drunken voyage through a perfect pulp fiction/film noir Manhattan. Rojack has to deal with constant suspicion from the police and from his ex-father-in-law, while meanwhile becoming more and more intoxicated with this New York underworld. He falls for his femme fatale, a night-club singer and mobster's girlfriend, and revels in the violence and decadence.

Like Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and others before him, Mailer presents a very dark and embittered take on American society, encapsulated by the bitterly ironic title. His portrayal of New York as Rojack sees it is detailed and described through his warped viewpoint, but despite being dark and dangerous it's also incredibly poetic and stylish; the charisma and poise emanates from every line, evocatively conjouring images of film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction. There's plenty to think about regarding Mailer's stylistic choices in relation to his presentation of 1960's American society, but whether you choose to imbed yourself in deconstruction or just want to follow a roller-coaster ride of style and suspense, then this book is for anyone with any fondness of gritty, hard-boiled black fiction.