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review 2017-05-22 16:22
A Man for Our Time
Missing a Beat: The Rants and Regrets of Seymour Krim - Mark Cohen,Seymour Krim

Could Seymour Krim make a comeback? Could a little-known holdover from the beat generation, a writer who died nearly 30 years ago, have something new to say to the iPhone generation? Not likely, but for my money the collection of essays in Missing a Beat felt among the most present discussions of celebrity, ambition, envy, doubt, and optimism in modern America that I have read recently.


Krim comes across in this collection as a disappointed striver. A writer who came up through the beat generation and kept plugging through the era of New Journalism, but never quite found that pearl Kerouac had promised: “Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything.” He is constantly in the shadow of more famous friends — recounted most directly in “Norman Mailer, Get Out of My Head!” — and frustrated in his efforts to achieve the kind of fame/notoriety or the wild adventures everyone around him seemed to be having. But Missing a Beat isn't merely a collection of regrets. What makes Krim's writing meaningful is the way he interrogates his own sense of failure. Why is it that he has to measure himself by Mailer’s fame? What is wrong with being a struggling artist? Isn’t that what he had wanted? How should he measure his own success?


In essays like “For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business,” Krim reckons as much with his own expectations and faults as he does with the terms of success society has handed him. Krim recounts how limitless possibilities have led him to chase dream after dream without settling into one place or occupation. He writes about a quiet movement of dreamers like him who have missed out on the middle class comforts of a stable career path — a savings account, a house, a family, a title, a legacy — and must sate themselves on the hope for something new and better tomorrow.

“I’ve published several serious books. I rate an inch in Who’s Who in America. I teach at a so-called respected university. But in that profuse upstairs delicatessen of mine I'm as open to every wild possibility I was at 13, although even I know that the chances of acting them out diminish with each heartbeat.”

Krim wrote “For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business” when he was 51 years old — that’s better than 20 years my senior — and I’m not sure if I should be comforted or very, very worried about that fact. What Krim saw as a freak community of dreamers is just reality for many of us today for whom “careers” at one company have gone the way of the Studebaker. He seems to warn of a future where unfavorable comparisons to the financial success of peers is constant, a future that's easy to imagine as I scroll the vacation photos of my friends on Instagram.


In fact much of Krim's writing seems eerily suited to the social media landscape, despite preceding it by decades, a fact I think that makes it only more applicable. Too many writers get hung up on the latest app or feature, sure that society will be redeemed or destroyed by a new filter on Snapchat. Social media may highlight our insecurities, but Krim reminds us that these have been around long before we ever started carrying them around in our pockets.

“You may sometimes think everyone lives in the crotch of the pleasure principle these days except you, but you have company, friend. … It is still your work or role that finally gives you your definition in our society, and the thousands upon thousands of people who I believe are like me are those who have never found the professional skin to fit the riot in their souls.”

“For my Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business" is a standout, but the same themes carry through many of his essays including “Making It!” and “The American Novel Made Me” without becoming repetitive. Each essay seems to come from a different angle: lack of direction, envy, and ambition, respectively. The writing itself crackles throughout with the energy of the beat generation. He writes in long sentences, each with several parenthetical phrases and catalogs that go to ten items or longer. He deploys slang but sparingly and to good effect. The descriptions are grounded in real sensations using onomatopoeia and analogies to the items and people around him instead of reaching for more academic language (like onomatopoeia). His essays seem always anchored in place, even as zooms out for a wider view, the world is recognizably his.


Missing a Beat is a good read for anyone a few years out of school who is starting to rethink their career choices and sometimes Googles “how to work abroad” while at work.

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review 2016-01-26 00:00
Of a Fire on the Moon
Of a Fire on the Moon - John Hanson Mitchell,Norman Mailer I've read many different books about the early days of the American space program, and what struck me about Of a Fire on the Moon is how personal it is.

While Mailer spends a great deal of time analyzing the people and the science and the machines that made man's first steps on the moon possible, what really makes this book work is the context he expertly weaves throughout. Because Apollo 11 wasn't just about putting a man on the moon - it was intricately bound to the cultural revolution of the Age of Aquarius. It was about capitalism, corporatism, American WASP identity. America wasn't just trying to beat the Russians - it was trying to win over its own people and the rest of the world.

Mailer talks about a global event in terms of his own experience with it, not just as a journalist covering the event but as a person who was forced to confront his own ideas about the new world that was emerging in that tumultuous decade. Written in 1969-1970, Of a Fire on the Moon offers a unique perspective of the far-reaching effects of the American space program without the benefit of hindsight. Highly recommended.
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review 2014-05-02 00:40
Letting a killer off the hook?
The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer,Dave Eggers

This review was originally posted on amazon on August 23, 2004.


It's been approximately 35 years (edited: it has now been 45 years) since this book was originally published. In the interim, the public has seen many men executed, some clearly worse than Gary Gilmore, including Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh. This is an interesting book because it really gets down and dirty with Gary Gilmore and the people who tried to help him. I fear, however, that it largely lets Gary Gilmore himself off the hook, allowing him to blame everyone but himself for his conduct in gunning down two very good men for absolutely no reason at all.


People who are alive are far more compelling and far more sympathetic than people who are dead. This is a rather sad fact of life for people who investigate and prosecute homicides. The killers, in all of their living and breathing technicolor glory, become the central figures in the drama of a murder case, while their victims lay forgotten. In attempting to illuminate Gary Gilmore and the forces at work inside of him, Normal Mailer makes Gary Gilmore the sympathetic main character in the drama that became The Executioners Song.


Only one example of this phenomenon is in the treatment of the Gary/Nicole "love story." Nicole, a nineteen-year-old, much-abused woman child, surrendered everything to the much older man (Gilmore was in his thirties) who claimed to love her. Gilmore, in return, attempted to kill her by manipulating her into a nearly successful suicide attempt. Gilmore's desire to possess Nicole was so great that he was unable to bear the thought that she might be capable of finding happiness without him. There was nothing loving about Gilmore's relationship with Nicole -- he sought, not to love her, but to subjugate her. When he realized that she would live on after his removal from society, and that his hold over her could be broken, he manipulated her into the suicide attempt as the ultimate expression of his total domination over her. And yet, many of the characters profiled in the book appear to accept the notion that the relationship between Gary and Nicole was that of star-crossed lovers (sort of a Western Romeo and Juliet) rather than that of sociopath and victim.

Gary Gilmore was a classic sociopath. He was incapable of caring for anyone other than himself. His decision to allow his execution was a calculated and self-centered one, and had little to do with remorse for the murders he committed. He realized that he would be unable to escape his fate, which, at best, would consist of a life in prison. He desired immortality, which he received in execution.

Read this book. It's interesting. But never forget that Gary Gilmore was not an epic hero who fell victim to circumstances beyond his control. The victims in this book are truly the very good and somewhat simple people surrounding Gilmore who were manipulated and used by him, as well as the two men he murdered. It's worth reading if only to try to understand how this sociopath manipulated those around him, beginning with his friends and lovers and ending, eventually, with his lawyers, the court, and the media.

Remember, though, that the story that we read is not necessarily the unvarnished truth, because it is based, at least in part, on interviews provided by Gary Gilmore, a man congenitally incapable of truthfulness. To some extent, we know what he wanted us to know, and nothing more.




Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner's Song in 1980. Shortly after that, Mailer spearheaded the parole of a convicted murderer, Jack Abbot, based in part upon his rather arrogant opinion that Mr. Abbot was a talented writer. He assisted Mr. Abbot in publishing a book, and lobbied for his early parole, which was granted over the misgivings of prison officials who did not feel that the prisoner had been sufficiently rehabilitated to be safe in the community.


Mr. Abbot stabbed a man named Richard Adan six weeks after his early release. He retained his celebrity supporters, including Susan Sarandon, even after he stabbed the young man to death.


I mention this to support my position that Mr. Mailer made the decision to glorify Gary Gilmore in a way that I, personally, find repugnant. He was arrogant and gullible. Had he confined that arrogance and gullibility to his writing, it would be merely a curious grotesquerie. But, by really letting a murderer off the hook, he is subject to much greater censure.

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review 2014-01-02 00:00
Mind of an Outlaw: Selected Essays
Mind of an Outlaw: Selected Essays - Norman Mailer,Phillip Sipiora,Jonathan Lethem I'll have to return to this book once I've actually read Mailer's fiction. He's a wonderful writer, but my ignorance of the bulk of his literary corpus basically had me flying blind (e.g. I don't know how he had previously "vilified the homosexual"; so I can't really judge the merit of his semi-apologetic column on the subject). Turns out there's a lot more to Mailer than one can learn in a single passion-filled weekend withThe Executioner's Song.

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review 2013-12-01 00:00
The Executioner's Song
The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer Unlike anything else I've ever read in just how naturally absorbed you are by the story and its many inhabitants. Glad I trusted Dave Eggars' entreaty that it would be "the fastest 1,000 pages you will ever know."
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