October 11, 2012

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

Back before good clear writing became redundant, the enemy was breathy, inflated prose. It was called purple, but I’ll take purple long before I take magic realism and other such gimmicks. Yes, we had preposterously melodramatic plots and all that, but at least one knew where he was and whom he was following. No longer. These days, only crime writers are worth reading for their prose. My heroes are James Cain and Raymond Chandler, but Dashiell Hammett will also do nicely. Nursing the Mailer evening hangover last week, I looked over a terrible newspaper that spreads false news daily and is called The Big Bagel Times. When I read the following, I was enchanted:

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement.

It was a review by Janet Maslin of a Dennis Lahane crime-noir novel called Live by Night. Can you see the genius in it? What an opening sentence! It’s full of foreshadowing, mystery, and terror. And it gets better:

…almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life…had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.

Now that’s what I call writing, and I thank Janet Maslin for pointing it out, even if she did it in such a mendacious propaganda sheet as the Times. Salman Rushdie would have handled it differently:

A tub of cement and the Gulf of Mexico crossed in front of Emma and she sank.

Or something like that.



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