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Why Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer,
and Truman Capote All Failed
to Write the Great American
Novel

PJ Media, by Bruce Bawer

Original Article

Posted By:Mike PHX, 9/29/2012 2:46:37 PM

Many commentators have suggested that the passing of Gore Vidal at age eighty-six on July 31 marks the end of a remarkable generation of postwar American novelists the likes of whom we shall never see again. When people speak of that generation of novelists, they are usually referring to exactly three people: Norman Mailer (born in 1923), Truman Capote (1924), and Vidal (1925). All three made splashy literary debuts in the years shortly after the war. All three were not just writers but celebrities.

Comments:
Putting their personal, public lives aside, Capote wrote great non-fiction. I must have read In Cold Blood a half dozen times. Mailer wrote a few pretty good fiction in the sixties and The Executioner's Song wasn't as bad as the author suggests. But Vidal? He was just a chubby, lazy former debutante with delusions of grandeur.
Just IMHO, of course.

      


Post Reply  

Reply 1 - Posted by: Mike PHX, 9/29/2012 2:48:49 PM     (No. 8898732)

"a few pretty good fiction"?!
It's obvious why I failed to write the Great American Novel.

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Reply 2 - Posted by: dotty, 9/29/2012 2:56:33 PM     (No. 8898740)

Is this guy kidding? Capote considered the short story the greatest form of fiction writing and no one ever topped him at that. "A Christmas Memory" is the most perfect short story I have ever read. It makes the sweetest Christmas gift. IN COLD BLOOD was a brilliant a piece of writing as ever written and it invented a new literary form, "The non-fiction novel." Capote didn't fail at anything. He survived a family that failed him and became great.

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Reply 3 - Posted by: SoCalGal, 9/29/2012 3:08:52 PM     (No. 8898767)

Their agendas showed.

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Reply 4 - Posted by: earlybird, 9/29/2012 3:10:09 PM     (No. 8898771)

"Great American Novel" has nothing to do with short stories or non-fiction.

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Reply 5 - Posted by: vesicant, 9/29/2012 3:19:42 PM     (No. 8898788)

Who cares^3.

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Reply 6 - Posted by: Raristotle, 9/29/2012 3:44:41 PM     (No. 8898827)

You gotta first be American in ethos and spirit to be able to write the "Great American Novel". Capote might have been the most American of the three, but he didn't write novels, mainly. Vidal and Mailer never understood America.

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Reply 7 - Posted by: Susannah, 9/29/2012 3:49:46 PM     (No. 8898845)

What a great article; thanks for posting it. Mailer, Capote, and Vidal were unusually gifted at self-promotion.

It's interesting that Bawer mentions "Marjorie Morningstar" and "Raintree County." A lot of people did consider "Raintree County" the Great American Novel. Unfortunately, Lockridge committed suicide soon after it was published.

I always thought "The Young Lions," also mentioned here, was better than Mailer's novel. Irwin Shaw was pretty much the master of the short story. "The Green Nude" and "Girls in Their Summer Dresses" are classics.

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Reply 8 - Posted by: Mike PHX, 9/29/2012 3:52:23 PM     (No. 8898851)

#4, I was making the (again, my own) observation that Capote was better at non- than fiction, which is one of the reasons he didn't write TGAN. Though I'm sure he thought he was when writing the unfinished Answered Prayers.

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Reply 9 - Posted by: bob913, 9/29/2012 4:06:25 PM     (No. 8898884)

They were all bitter gay men?

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Reply 10 - Posted by: earlybird, 9/29/2012 4:22:17 PM     (No. 8898913)

Maybe someone can tell me what makes Bawer an expert, an authority. I've never heard of him.

Why these three? I never liked any of them.

How about Dreiser? Even Margaret Miller, with GWTW?

Bawer tries for a big statement. Misses by miles.

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Reply 11 - Posted by: Susannah, 9/29/2012 4:27:57 PM     (No. 8898922)

Bawer's a literary critic, among other things, #11. But even if he weren't, he'd still be entitled to write a literate essay expressing his considered opinions about some novelists. He may not have mentioned Dreiser or Mitchell because of space limitations. He probably performed a service reminding some of his readers of the existence of Ross Lockridge and Irwin Shaw.

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Reply 12 - Posted by: Mike PHX, 9/29/2012 4:28:25 PM     (No. 8898925)

He was referring to a particular, post WWII generation.
Who is Margaret Miller? I never heard of her either.

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Reply 13 - Posted by: Japanorama, 9/29/2012 6:24:58 PM     (No. 8899102)

The great American is the average American who made this country. These three were effete snobs, so they hadn't a clue.

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Reply 14 - Posted by: earlybird, 9/29/2012 6:33:04 PM     (No. 8899118)

"Margaret Miller" was a mind cramp.

Margaret Mitchell was the author I was referring to.

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Reply 15 - Posted by: Emerson, 9/29/2012 6:37:45 PM     (No. 8899129)

Bawer took lots of words to finally get to this:

Why were they better at non-fiction than fiction? A big part of the reason is that a great novelist needs to have the gift of profound empathy – the ability to create, care profoundly about, and comprehend to the depths of their souls characters radically different from himself. To be a great novelist requires that one be able to stand alone, as it were, at the edge of the party and observe other people patiently and unobtrusively – to look into their eyes and, in doing so, try to see into their souls.

None of these three were up to that; all were too wrapped up in themselves.


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Reply 16 - Posted by: Japanorama, 9/30/2012 4:53:38 AM     (No. 8899689)

The human heart eludes mere technique.

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