I thought this nice post from Random House editor David Ebershoff about working with Norman Mailer on his last few books, posted over at Critical Mass, might be of interest. It's a sweet, short piece. (I'm a fan of that site, a blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors).
The last time I saw Norman Mailer was at a public memorial service for William Styron held last year at the Boston Public Library. I thought I blogged about this, but maybe not. He was the final speaker, after Michael Lowenthal and others, and he made some rude comment about how the men spoke louder than the women, and if Hilary wants to be President she'll have to take a lesson from men, blah blah blah. Your usual Mailer stuff. Everyone laughed, including my former boss and her friend, both proud second-wave feminists who surely shook rightful fists at Mailer in another time. I'd like to say he wasn't just a caricature at that point, and truly his stories of Styron were interesting - both self-aggrandizing and conflicted, apologetic but somehow still boastful.
I had met Mailer at a party at the Museum of Natural History in London, for the Orange Prize. It was the year when Zadie Smith was nominated for her first book, and she was there and she was gorgeous, but she was also a loser. My boss, a literary agent, was representing another lesser known nominee who, it turned out, knew Mailer, so I found myself meeting him and his wife, whom I vaguely recognized as an actress in a television show played late at night in syndication about waitresses who worked in a restaurant at the top of a building, with Ann Jillian - "It's a Living," I see from imdb. And turns out, it wasn't her, she's actually a novelist herself. Anyhow, Mailer was much more charming on this more intimate level, and incredibly kind about up and coming authors. It was P-town Mailer, perhaps.
With his passing, I read a few obits of him and listened to an old Terry Gross interview from Fresh Air. Do we still have literary characters like this in pop culture, I wonder? Dave Eggers was almost one with his first book, but I don't know that we have many more literary turks. Jonathan Safran Foer and people like him have a certain hipness, but I don't think they're found on primetime television or on late night talk shows. Too bad - where's Dick Cavett when we need him? (Blogging at the NY Times?!)