Norman Mailer’s 1191-Page Harlot’s Ghost Outlined in One Handwritten Sheet


Nor­man Mail­er wrote pro­lif­i­cal­ly, but that did­n’t mean crank­ing out insub­stan­tial vol­umes. The books whose names we all remem­ber always feel, when we take them down off the shelf, some­what weight­i­er than we remem­ber: Adver­tise­ments for Myself at 532 pages, The Naked and the Dead at 731, The Exe­cu­tion­er’s Song at 1072. But the ones with titles which don’t come to mind quite so read­i­ly can feel even more phys­i­cal­ly mon­u­men­tal, and delib­er­ate­ly craft­ed that way. “Mail­er liked to think of his books as his chil­dren,” wrote Louis Menand in the author’s 2007 New York­er obit­u­ary, “and, when asked which were his favorites, to name the least crit­i­cal­ly appre­ci­at­ed” — he answered, “Ancient Evenings and Harlot’s Ghost, great lit­er­ary pyra­mids that no one vis­its any longer.” Ancient Evenings takes place in Egypt, among the actu­al pyra­mids, but if you want to vis­it the much more labyrinthine land­mark of Har­lot’s Ghost, you’d best take a map. Con­ve­nient­ly, Mail­er drew one up him­self, in the form of the out­line above.

It would nev­er before have seemed pos­si­ble to me to reduce Mail­er’s 1191-page nov­el of the CIA in the 1960s — a tale of the Mafia, the Cold War, the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion and Mis­sile Cri­sis, the JFK assas­si­na­tion, and all those events’ atten­dant com­pli­ca­tions both real and imag­ined — to a sin­gle sheet, but here we have it. You can click on the image at the top of the post to enlarge it, and then click on the sec­tion you’d like to read in detail. Read Har­lot’s Ghost with this out­line handy, and per­haps you’ll find your­self not on the side of those (Menand includ­ed) who dis­missed the book upon its pub­li­ca­tion in 1991, but of those who con­sid­er it Mail­er’s mas­ter­piece. Christo­pher Hitchens took the lat­ter posi­tion in his own obit­u­ary for Mail­er, call­ing the nov­el “a his­toric fic­tion­al­iz­ing of the nation­al-secu­ri­ty state that came very near to real­iz­ing the Balza­cian ambi­tion that he had con­ceived for it. What a shame that it was so dis­mal­ly received by the crit­ics and that he nev­er deliv­ered the sec­ond vol­ume of it that he had promised.” And imag­ine the size and com­plex­i­ty to which Mail­er would have grown that book.

via Fla­vor­wire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nor­man Mail­er & Mar­shall McLuhan Debate the Elec­tron­ic Age

Nor­man Mail­er & Gore Vidal Feud on Dick Cavett Show

Nor­man Mail­er: Strong Writer, Weak Actor, Bru­tal­ly Wres­tles Actor Rip Torn

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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