Archivist, Biographer, Educator

Category: Reviews

MLD Reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly

Lennon (Norman Mailer: Works and Days), Norman Mailer’s archivist and biographer, gathers his own criticism, reviews, and personal essays in this varied collection. “The Archivist’s Apprentice” traces Lennon’s fascination with Mailer back to Lennon’s time in graduate school, when he proposed a doctoral thesis on Mailer, a proposition seen as questionable at the time because Mailer was still alive, and recounts Lennon’s time as Mailer’s archivist’s apprentice in the late 1970s. In the standout “Meeting Mailer,” Lennon recalls writing a fan letter to Mailer that led to a lifelong friendship, during which Lennon’s son thought Mailer “seemed more like a friendly uncle than a famous person.” Lennon also includes a grab bag of his reviews, among them of Don DeLillo’s Zero K (a “milestone”), Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (notable for the book’s “moving depiction of the gaping holes in family life”), and Joan Didion’s South and West (a collection that’s more than just a postmortem push for monetization, Lennon contends). These don’t have quite the same force that Lennon’s personal writing on Mailer does; here, the notoriously pugnacious Mailer comes off as a surprisingly approachable figure. Though it’s not all hits, this one’s worth it for the intimate literary insight. (Nov.)

From Publisher’s Weekly.

A Mistake 10,000 Miles Long

Robert Stone’s best work was inspired by the Vietnam War.

In interviews two decades apart (1985 and 2006) Robert Stone recalled what happened after finishing a difficult section at the end of his second novel, Dog Soldiers (1974), while working in the basement of a university library. He staggered out of his carrel, crying and talking to himself, and “ran right into the security guard. He almost went for his gun because it’s the middle of the night, and I looked completely demented. You can get very, very affected”. Stone (1937–2015) equated his passionate immersion in the lives of his characters with that of Charles Dickens.

Crafted Confession

Re-reading Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy planned to write a three-volume autobiography late in her life, but only finished the first, How I Grew (1987), before she died at the age of seventy-seven in 1989. It was politely received, as due the “First Lady of American Letters … our Joan of Arc”, as Norman Mailer referred to her, but the praise was generally tepid, largely because it was a twice-told tale. McCarthy had covered roughly the same years of her life in an earlier book, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Published in 1957, it is considered by some to be the best of her two dozen books, including eight novels and several volumes of essays, reportage and criticism. Its superiority derives not only from the passionate sense of justice that imbues the depiction of her ghastly Cinderella childhood, but also the singular circumstances of its composition.

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