Norman Mailer in HisTime 6

Mailer’s idea was to render the language of his real-life charac¬ters in the novelistic style known as free-indirect discourse—that is, to paraphrase them in language drawn from their own way of talk¬ing. He essentially created a voice between speech and narration.
Brenda knew her power in conversations like this. She might be that much nearer to thirty-five than thirty, but she hadn’t gone into marriage four times without knowing she was pretty attractive on the hoof, and the parole officer, Mont Court, was blond and tall with a husky build. Just an average good-looking American guy, very much on the Mr. Clean side, but all the same, Brenda thought, pretty likable. He was sympathetic to the idea of a second chance, and would flex it out with you if there was a good reason. If not, he would come down pretty hard. That was how she read him. He seemed just the kind of man for Gary.
This style enabled Mailer to avoid the reductionism that was the consequence of Capote’s decision to maintain the impression of journalistic detachment, and it allowed him to create open characters—that is, characters who are not entirely subjected to the medi¬ating distortions of the authorial voice—without losing control of his narrative.
Having withdrawn his own voice from the text, on the other hand, Mailer could not place his involvement in its creation in the foreground, as he had done in The Armies of the Night. This problem he solved by elevating the character of Lawrence Schiller to a key role in the second half of the book. Schiller, the man who went out to Utah to buy up the rights to Gilmore’s story and who eventually signed Mailer up to write it, is more than the representative of the journalist. He is a continual reminder that Gilmore’s death (and the deaths of the two men Gilmore killed) is being turned to commer¬cial use. You think, What a carrion bird is this Larry Schiller. Then you realize that you are holding in your hands the very commodity he has created. You are a shareholder in Gilmore, Inc. The Execu¬tioner’s Song brings the old question about fiction that modernism had apparently drained of interest—Can the text justly mirror real¬ity?—back to life. It raises the ethical stakes of reading.
In keeping himself out of In Cold Blood, Capote was working for an illusion of transparency. He wanted to be a mirror to events. He had his own interpretation of the killers, but it was a psychological interpretation, and he quoted an article from a psychology journal to express it. He did not see a literary significance in his material. What Mailer saw in his material—as Schiller had already shaped it, according to which rights he could secure and which he couldn’t; but we are privy to all the machinations—was a love story. What makes The Executioner’s Song novelistic is not the character of Gilmore but the character of Gilmore’s girlfriend, Nicole Barrett. She, not Gary, is the hero of the story, and the recognition that she is dramatically the equal of Gilmore is crucial to an appreciation of the book.
Half of the Gilmore story has to do with his struggle to force the Utah authorities to execute him, but the other half has to do with his struggle to persuade Nicole to die with him by committing sui¬cide, and this second struggle is the novelist’s home ground. Nicole is a promiscuous and scatterbrained young woman, with two kids, living on welfare, and Gilmore is a cold and clever con. His whole personality is driven by the desire to control; this, more than any-thing else, is what motivates his crusade to have his death sentence carried out on his terms. He wishes (to offer the textual analogy) to be the author of all destinies, and he needs to suck Nicole into the grave with him. But she breaks free. Gilmore is about death, and Nicole is, in the end, for life. There is no one quite like her in con¬temporary American literature, and she is possibly Mailer’s greatest creation. One wonders if he knows it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*