Barbary Shore: A Novel by Norman Mailer

By Norman Mailer

Released on the peak of the McCarthy period, Norman Mailer's audacious novel of socialism is right now an elegy and an indictment, a sinuous ethical mystery and an highbrow slugfest. Wounded in the course of international conflict II, Mike Lovett is an amnesiac, and lots more and plenty of his earlier is a mystery to himself. but if Lovett rents a room in Brooklyn, he reveals that his housemates have secrets and techniques in their personal: One betrays a husband nobody ever sees; one other can have been a Communist executioner. Combining Kafkaesque unease with Orwellian paranoia, Barbary Shore performs havoc with our certainties and provides its results with a strength that's natural Mailer.

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But Irving began to tell me the way he had done sections of Garp and had sewn them together, and then invented this and put that in there. At one point we turned to talk about madness. I forget the exact connection, but he said madness was catching, that it was infectious. When I heard him say that, I knew there was something bigger to my novel, and that’s why I hadn’t been able to end it. While I was having fun mocking things, I also wanted to say something about the madness of violence and people’s obsessions.

It didn’t prevent me from feeling my way into other poems, which I’ve written parallel to that book but which I hope to complete for another book. I also think that there’s a certain essence of what happens to a poet that’s inexplicable, that’s even unsayable. It’s in our nature to try to explain some of the things we did and why we did them, as if rational consideration is behind our actions. But even the choices one might make in a rhyme or a syllable or a stress pattern or whatever, some of it just falls out.

When Plumly wrote that, I thought he had named exactly what some of us were after. From my point of view, in the late seventies I was one of the few people who were trying to write this kind of poem, which is a variation of the prose-lyric poem. People, as far as I could tell, thought that I was a little strange. It wasn’t the trend, it wasn’t what was fashionable. Then Norman Dubie was writing it, he saw my work, and wrote me, and we became very good friends. Since then, Robert Hass, C. K. Williams, and others have developed this type of poem.

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