Monday, 14 April 2008
Though Oswald's Tale's style and substance are like The Executioner's Song - the book "depends upon the small revelation of separate points of view" - it's more interesting, since Mailer got access to KGB files on Lee Oswald's time in the Soviet Union. His version of Oswald is fair and thorough and he patiently considers the importance of small contradictions. At times you think he's writing more about his own psychology than Oswald's, and at others - more reasonably - he seems to use his knowledge of Jack Abbott as a reference point for his insights.
In January I read Why Are We in Vietnam? for the 3rd time and realized it's one of Mailer's best novels. The narrator's witty riffs, rants and digressions and the more concrete narrative of the hunt interrupt each other, and that can be frustrating - and that's our modern consciousness and our experience of life: as Jackson J. Benson said 2 or 3 years later in Hemingway: The Writer's Art of Self-Defense, none of us see with Hem's clarity and simplicity, and none of us live in a world we would want to see that clearly.
Near the end Mailer backs away from a climactic scene and that makes it a very good book instead of a great one; though in Ancient Evenings - where it may have seemed to him to be at a safer distance - he writes with more emotion about a similar situation that goes much farther.