FBI Found Mailer's Literary Style 'Obscene and Bitter'
Washington Post investigative reporter Joe Stephens, the first person to obtain the FBI's confidential files on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer, offers a periodic peek inside the documents. Next week: more about Marilyn Monroe.
By Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Lots of book reviewers shoot from the hip. But Norman Mailer had to face literary critics who were actually packing heat.
The Washington Post recently revealed that, after Mailer made fun of first lady Jackie Kennedy in an 1962 magazine article, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover launched a wide-ranging investigation into the bad-boy author. The bureau's scrutiny of Mailer rolled on for 15 years, outliving Hoover himself.
Agents didn't find much incriminating. And most of what they did find was already in the public domain, often in Mailer's own books and articles.
In January 1969, Hoover personally ordered up a review of Mailer's then-new book, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, about the previous year's political conventions. The result was a classic collision of the literary mind with the linear thinking of Hoover's finest.
The New York Times, in its review, compared Mailer's prose to that of Charles Dickens and gushed that "his vignettes have imperial authority." The Chicago Tribune declared Mailer's prose "masterful" and purred that, "to understand 1968, you must read Mailer." The New York Review of Books reported that Mailer's gem "often reads like a good, old-fashioned novel in which suspense, character, plot revelations, and pungently describable action abound."
And the G-man assigned to book-review duty?
"Mailer vacillates greatly in his thinking, making this book difficult to read and impossible at times to comprehend," the agent pounded out in stark typewriter fonts. Mailer's writing style, the agent noted, was "obscene and bitter."
When done with his review, the agent filed away the tome in the obvious place at FBI headquarters: the Communist Infiltrated and New Left Groups Unit in the Internal Security Section of the Bureau's Domestic Intelligence Division.
Want to decide for yourself how the Bureau does at literary analysis? Have a look:
By The Editors |
November 18, 2008; 1:44 PM ET
The Mailer Files
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