mailer and maugham’s favourites

Norman Mailer’s Ten Favorite American Novels


­1. U.S.A., John Dos Passos

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

3. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

4. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

5. Studs Lonigan, James T. Farrell

6. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

7. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

8. Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara

9. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain

10. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville



W. Somerset Maugham’s Ten Greatest Novels

Alfred Eisenstaedt: Maugham reading on Cape Cod.


In 1948 the British novelist wrote Great Novelists and Their Novels, which contained the following list of what he considered the ten greatest novels ever written. He acknowledged in the introductory essay that "to talk of the ten best novels in the world is to talk nonsense, " but he went on to analyze what made these novels great in a short essay that became required reading for any would-be novelist. It is difficult to believe that anyone embarking on reading these ten books would not come out of the experience a changed person.

1. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

3. The Red and the Black, Stendhal

4. Old Man Goriot, Honoré de Balzac

5. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

7. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

8. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

9. ­War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

10. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky


—from Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan (eds.), A Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Lore, and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for, and Appreciating Books (1999)

mailer on brossard’s work, and brossard on god’s work …

norman mailer commented in 1959 that "brossard has that deep distaste for weakness which gives work a cold poetry."

Abused myself three times today even though I am aware that you are supposed to lose your memory as a result of it. Could not help it; was very depressed. Felt much better afterward. Millions of souls suddenly lived and died there in my white handkerchief, but I took it quite calmly. There future was no concern of mine. That’s God’s work, what he gets paid for. Let him worry about it.

 —Chandler Brossard, The Bold Saboteurs (1953), p. 258

bud powell: godfather to “geniuses who occasionally got their mail in mental health facilities”

"Much of what I try to do on the page is create a state of mind: quite often the extreme and occasionally conflicting drive to stay alive and not kill yourself or anybody else in the process."

Jerry Stahl
                                          Frank Delia
Jerry Stahl

Living With Music: Jerry Stahl

Jerry Stahl’s books include “Permanent Midnight,” “I, Fatty” and, most recently, “Pain Killers.”

1) “Better Git It in Your Soul,” Charles Mingus
. One of my favorite memories is seeing a white guy tell Mingus to turn on the air conditioning at the Five Spot. Mingus was about 5-foot-2, built like two tanks glued together, and wearing a pair of tan-and-brown checkerboard leather pants. The look Mingus gave the man was life-changing — not unlike the up from the underworld growl of his vocal in “Devil Rode a Black Horse.” Bonus point: “Beneath The Underdog,” Mingus’s autobiography, may be the most viscerally brilliant memoir ever written in English.)

2) “Enter Evening,” Cecil Taylor Unit.
Listening to Taylor is like reading “Ulysses.” You know you’d need post-doctorate work in five different fields to comprehend half of what the artist is doing, but you hang in for the music even if you can’t understand it. By the end you’re shaking and sweating. But you’re cool for the day.

3) “Ascenseur de la Chaffeud,” Miles Davis.
Part of what makes writing hard, for me, is transitioning from the ho-hum quotidian of life to whatever weird space is required to create. “Elevator to the Gallows” goes right there. According to the liner notes, Miles improvised this on the spot, while watching Jeanne Morreau noir it up. The theme is so haunting, so effective at conveying the desperate, end-of-the-line joy of doomed couples in black-and-white movies. It’s one of those songs you can play 20 times in a row. The CD has a half-dozen different takes of the same song. They can all penetrate your aorta.

4) “245,” Eric Dolphy.
What I remember most about this record is the monster growth sprouting on Dolphy’s forehead on the cover. The way he plays, I half imagined the thing was some kind of tumor the saxophonist blew out of his brain while recording this track. That kind of intensity, apparently, you really have to pay for.

5) “East Broadway Rundown,” Sonny Rollins.
Some music I listen to for the same reason I re-read certain books or stare at certain paintings — in hopes that by osmosis, or some kind of cosmic leakage, a sliver of the artist’s power might somehow pass my way. Rollins has that kind of power. Most famous for his two-year stint woodshedding on the Williamsburg Bridge, on “Blessing in Disguise” Rollins rolls in at 20 plus minutes. For some reason, listening to it reminded me of this interview with Norman Mailer, where he talks about how, when you’re starting out, you have nothing but wild energy, which compensates for the fact that you might not know what the hell you’re doing. When you get older, Mailer said, you don’t have that energy — but you have the caginess to know how to use what you have. Beyond the music, the album is worth tracking down for the William Claxton photo of Rollins in gunbelt and cowboy hat in the middle of a desert in a sharkskin suit. Whatever hep-cat marketing whiz came up with the idea of Rollins dressing like Roy Rogers, I hope he’s happy now.

6) “Un Poco Loco,” Bud Powell.
Powell is godfather to the fraternity of geniuses — from Oscar Levant to Brian Wilson to Syd Barrett — who occasionally got their mail in mental health facilities. In 1947 the pianist underwent electroconvulsive therapy at Creedmor. In 1954 he recorded “Un Poco Loco,” on which (maybe it’s me) he sounds as though he’s playing with an orchestra only he can hear. Harold Bloom includes “Un Poco” in his 100 Greatest Works of the 20th Century. But forget that, and check it out anyway.

7) “Speedball,” Lee Morgan.
Jazz guys were way ahead of rock stars when it came to dying young. The way Morgan plays on this, it’s almost as if he knew what was in the mail. Morgan bought it at 33, when his girlfriend — who had the incredibly prophetic name of “Helen More” — walked into Slugs, a club in the East Village, and shot him between sets, in the heart. Morgan played as if he had one toe in a puddle and one in a wall socket. That agitated soulfulness always hits something I can’t quite name. Whatever it is, you can feel it.

8) “Chinatown,” Luna.
Of the 50 million great and “essential” (as they say on iTunes) songs to include, this one, from Luna’s “Penthouse” album, hits the occasionally necessary Soothe button. Dean Wareham has an unlikely quiver of a voice that, for whatever ungodly reason, sounds as if he’s survived something his music alludes to but never gives away. There’s something that goes all the way back to Tom Verlaine and Television in this sound. It’s as if the singer is the quiet guy who never made any trouble.

9 “Katrina,” James “Blood” Ulmer.
It’s not the blues’ fault it got turned into music for beer commercials. As the saying goes, “Ideas are not responsible for the people who embrace them.” Ullmer put in years playing with Ornette Coleman, and his fractured, vein-popping guitar on “Katrina” cuts with a kind of rawness for which there’s no other term but avant gutbucket.

10) “I Feel That Old Feeling Coming On,” James Brown.
Brown wailing “I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I ,I, I” from down in his toe is flat-out inspirational. His urgency could rouse a liver off life support. This is the song you play when you need to keep going. Plus he gives all the advice you ever need about writing. In five words: “Hit it and quit it.”




intimations of oswald spengler… by the mid-60s, mailer pessimistic about the future of the west…

…and my ideas are going to become more and more unimportant. There’s something going on which I don’t think I understand anymore, and I used to have a confidence that I understood the times better than anyone, but now I just don’t know. These McLuhans, these Pynchons and Jeremy Larners and this love of electronics and plastic and folk/rock make me feel like Plekhanov’s scolding of the Soviets in 1917. Sometimes I think we’re at the tail end of something which soon may be gone forever, so that in 50 years, for instance, there may not be anyone alive who’s read all of “Remembrance of Things Past.” See how gloomy I am. Why indeed should I give a damn what my friends’ ideas are—indeed let them cherish them for a while, they don’t matter any more thanmy own ideas. What I do know is that the majority of people among whom you spent your intellectual life, and they are the Communists of the ’40s who form up a large part of this, had an aridity of invention and sterility of emotion which had everything to do with preparing the ground for the extraordinary nihilism which is now near upon us, because with rare exceptions, and Lionel would be one of the very rare ones, they offered no fertile continuations of Western thought—their best and final tool was a savage, even cannibalistic malice…..

Love for now,      


—From a letter by Norman Mailer to Diana Trilling, June 1966. Now consider Mailer’s letter of August 8, 1945, to his first wife, Beatrice, about the long-term consequences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima:

I think our age is going to mark the end of such concepts as man’s will and mass determination of power. The world will be controlled by a few men, politicians and technicians—Spengler’s men of the late West-European-American civilization. Much as he stimulates me, I’m no Spenglerian. In the alternatives of doing the necessary or nothing, I prefer nothing if the necessary is unpalatable.

More of Norman Mailer’s letters appear on The New Yorker’s Web site.


the public triumph & private hell of the american epoch, as told by john cheever in just 4,648 words

John Cheever’s great short story, "The Death of Justina," first appeared in the November 1960 issue of Esquire (along with writing by Norman Mailer and Ian Fleming!). It then appeared a year later in a volume of short stories, Some People, Places & Things That Will Not Appear in My Next Novel, which was reviewed in the April 28, 1961 issue of Time Magazine, under the headline "One Man’s Hell":
About six months ago, Author John (The Wapshot Chronicle) Cheever announced publicly that "life in the U.S. in 1960 is hell." Since hell is a private estate, it might be supposed that he could have been speaking merely for himself. But his scores of short stories and now this book of new ones prove plainly, of course, that he was speaking as well for his not-so-fictional characters. The hell he has staked out for them is by now unmistakably Cheever country (nice house, nice income, nice wife, nice kids, all of it tasting of despair and a thick tongue the morning after). But only rarely is there a true hellion to be found there. There are, rather, middleclass, earthly sufferers whose jobs are as uncertain or as unsatisfying as their moral underpinnings, their visions of goodness constantly clouded by the more intolerable vision of the sad ending that must overtake them and their neighbours…
The Death of Justina is a more explicit try at sketching a corner of hell in suburban U.S. His wife’s elderly cousin dies in the narrator’s house, but the town is so carefully zoned that in his neighborhood there are no undertakers and none are permitted to come from outside to pick her up. The only solution, his doctor tells him, is to take her across the zoning line in his car. But Justina’s death is merely the incident that fires the smoldering discontent of a man whose daily stint is to commute to the city and turn out TV commercials. Cheever is almost surely speaking for himself when his frustrated adman says: "There are some Americans who, although their fathers emigrated from the Old World three centuries ago, never seem to have quite completed the voyage, and I am one of these."
Here, in its entirety, is Cheever’s great story, one of the best short stories in all of American literature: 

So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one’s purest memories and ambitions; and I can barely recall the old house where I was raised, where in midwinter Parma violets bloomed in a cold frame near the kitchen door, and down the long corridor, past the seven views of Rome—up two steps and down three—one entered the library, where all the books were in order, the lamps were bright, where there was a fire and a dozen bottles of good bourbon locked in a cabinet with a veneer like tortoise shell whose silver key my father wore on his watch chain. Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we despise death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of a night and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience.
ON SATURDAY the doctor told me to stop smoking and drinking and I did. I won’t go into the commonplace symptoms of withdrawal but I would like to point out that, standing at my window in the evening, watching the brilliant afterlight and the spread of darkness, I felt, through the lack of these humble stimulants, the force of some primitive memory in which the coming of night with its stars and its moon was apocalyptic. I thought suddenly of the neglected graves of my three brothers on the mountainside and that death is a loneliness much crueler than any loneliness hinted at in life. The soul (I thought) does not leave the body but lingers with it through every degrading stage of decomposition and neglect, through heat, through cold, through the long winter nights when no one comes with a wreath or a plant and no one says a prayer. This unpleasant premonition was followed by anxiety. We were going out for dinner and I thought that the oil burner would explode in our absence and burn the house. The cook would get drunk and attack my daughter with a carving knife or my wife and I would be killed in a collision on the main highway, leaving our children bewildered orphans with nothing in life to look forward to but sadness. I was able to observe, along with these foolish and terrifying anxieties, a definite impairment of my discretionary poles. I felt as if I were being lowered by ropes into the atmosphere of my childhood. I told my wife—when she passed through the living room—that I had stopped smoking and drinking but she didn’t seem to care and who would reward me for my privations? Who cared about the bitter taste in my mouth and that my head seemed to be leaving my shoulders? It seemed to me that men had honored one another with medals, statuary, and cups for much less and that abstinence is a social matter. When I abstain from sin it is more often a fear of scandal than a private resolve to improve on the purity of my heart, but here was a call for abstinence without the worldly enforcement of society, and death is not the threat that scandal is. When it was time for us to go out I was so lightheaded that I had to ask my wife to drive the car. On Sunday I sneaked seven cigarettes in various hiding places and drank two Martinis in the downstairs coat closet. At breakfast on Monday my English muffin stared up at me from the plate. I mean I saw a face there in the rough, toasted surface. The moment of recognition was fleeting, but it was deep, and I wondered who it had been. Was it a friend, an aunt, a sailor, a ski instructor, a bartender, or a conductor on a train? The smile faded off the muffin but it had been there for a second—the sense of a person, a life, a pure force of gentleness and censure—and I am convinced that the muffin had contained the presence of some spirit. As you can see, I was nervous.
      On Monday my wife’s old cousin, Justina, came to visit her. Justina was a lively guest although she must have been crowding eighty. On Tuesday my wife gave her a lunch party. The last guest left at three and a few minutes later Cousin Justina, sitting on the living-room sofa with a glass of good brandy, breathed her last. My wife called me at the office and I said that I would be right out. I was clearing my desk when my boss, MacPherson, came in.
      "Spare me a minute," he asked. "I’ve been bird-dogging all over the place, trying to track you down. Pierce had to leave early and I want you to write the last Elixircol commercial."
      "Oh, I can’t, Mac," I said. "My wife just called. Cousin Justina is dead."
      "You write that commercial," he said. His smile was satanic. "Pierce had to leave early because his grandmother fell off a stepladder."
      Now, I don’t like fictional accounts of office life. It seems to me that if you’re going to write fiction you should write about mountain climbing and tempests at sea, and I will go over my predicament with MacPherson briefly, aggravated as it was by his refusal to respect and honor the death of dear old Justina. It was like MacPherson. It was a good example of the way I’ve been treated. He is,I might say, a tall, splendidly groomed man of about sixty who changes his shirt three times a day, romances his secretary every afternoon between two and two-thirty, and makes the habit of continuously chewing gum seem hygienic and elegant. I write his speeches for him and it has not been a happy arrangement for me. If the speeches are successful MacPherson takes all the credit. I can see that his presence, his tailor, and his fine voice are all a part of the performance but it makes me angry never to be given credit for what was said. On the other hand, if the speeches are unsuccessful—if his presence and his voice can’t carry the hour—his threatening and sarcastic manner is surgical and I am obliged to contain myself in the role of a man who can do no good in spite of the piles of congratulatory mail that my eloquence sometimes brings in. I must pretend—I must, like an actor, study and improve on my pretension—to have nothing to do with his triumphs, and I must bow my head gracefully in shame when we have both failed. I am forced to appear grateful for injuries, to lie, to smile falsely, and to play out a role as inane and as unrelated to the facts as a minor prince in an operetta, but if I speak the truth it will be my wife and my children who will pay in hardships for my outspokenness. Now he refused to respect or even to admit the solemn fact of a death in our family and if I couldn’t rebel it seemed as if I could at least hint at it.
      The commercial he wanted me to write was for a tonic called Elixircol and was to be spoken on television by an actress who was neither young nor beautiful but who had an appearance of ready abandon and who was anyhow the mistress of one of the sponsor’s uncles. Are you growing old? I wrote. Are you falling out of love with your image in the looking glass? Does your face in the morning seem rucked and seamed with alcoholic and sexual excesses and does the rest of you appear to be a grayish-pink lump, covered all over with brindle hair? Walking in the autumn woods do you feel that a subtle distance has come between you and the smell of wood smoke? Have you drafted your obituary? Are you easily winded? Do you wear a girdle? Is your sense of smell fading, is your interest in gardening waning, is your fear of heights increasing, and are your sexual drives as ravening and intense as ever and does your wife look more and more to you like a stranger with sunken cheeks who has wandered into your bedroom by mistake? If this or any of this is true you need Elixircol, the true juice of youth. The small economy size (business with the bottle) costs seventy-five dollars and the giant family bottle comes at two hundred and fifty. It’s a lot of scratch, God knows, but these are inflationary times and who can put a price on youth? If you don’t have the cash borrow it from your neighborhood loan shark or hold up the local bank. The odds are three to one that with a ten-cent water pistol and a slip of paper you can shake ten thousand out of any fainthearted teller. Everybody’s doing it. (Music up and out.) I sent this in to MacPherson via Raiphie, the messenger boy, and took the 5:16 home, traveling through a landscape of utter desolation.
      Now, my journey is a digression and has no real connection to Justina’s death but what followed could only have happened in my country and in my time and since I was an American traveling across an American landscape the trip may be part of the sum. There are some Americans who, although their fathers emigrated from the Old World three centuries ago, never seem to have quite completed the voyage and I am one of these. I stand, figuratively, with one wet foot on Plymouth Rock, looking with some delicacy, not into a formidable and challenging wilderness but onto a half-finished civilization embracing glass towers, oil derricks, suburban continents, and abandoned movie houses and wondering why, in this most prosperous, equitable, and accomplished world—where even the cleaning women practice the Chopin preludes in their spare time—everyone should seem to be disappointed.
      At Proxmire Manor I was the only passenger to get off the random, meandering, and profitless local that carried its shabby lights off into the dusk like some game-legged watchman or beadle making his appointed rounds. I went around to the front of the station to wait for my wife and to enjoy the traveler’s fine sense of crisis. Above me on the hill were my home and the homes of my friends, all lighted and smelling of fragrant wood smoke like the temples in a sacred grove, dedicated to monogamy, feckless childhood, and domestic bliss but so like a dream that I felt the lack of viscera with much more than poignance—the absence of that inner dynamism we respond to in some European landscapes. In short, I was disappointed. It was my country, my beloved country, and there have been mornings when I could have kissed the earth that covers its many provinces and states. There was a hint of bliss; romantic and domestic bliss. I seemed to hear the jingle bells of the sleigh that would carry me to Grandmother’s house although in fact Grandmother spent the last years of her life working as a hostess on an ocean liner and was lost in the tragic sinking of the S. S. Lorelei and I was responding to a memory that I had not experienced. But the hill of light rose like an answer to some primitive dream of homecoming. On one of the highest lawns I saw the remains of a snowman who still smoked a pipe and wore a scarf and a cap but whose form was wasting away and whose anthracite eyes stared out at the view with terrifying bitterness. I sensed some disappointing greenness of spirit in the scene although I knew in my bones, no less, how like yesterday it was that my father left the Old World to found a new; and I thought of the forces that had brought stamina to the image: the cruel towns of Calabria and their cruel princes, the badlands northwest of Dublin, ghettos, despots, whorehouses, bread lines, the graves of children, intolerable hunger, corruption, persecution, and despair had generated these faint and mellow lights and wasn’t it all a part of the great migration that is the life of man?
      My wife’s cheeks were wet with tears when I kissed her. She was distressed, of course, and really quite sad. She had been attached to Justina. She drove me home, where Justina was still sitting on the sofa. I would like to spare you the unpleasant details but I will say that both her mouth and her eyes were wide open. I went into the pantry to telephone Dr. Hunter. His line was busy. I poured myself a drink—the first since Sunday—and lighted a cigarette. When I called the doctor again he answered and I told him what had happened. "Well, I’m awfully sorry to hear about it, Moses," he said. "I can’t get over until after six and there isn’t much that I can do. This sort of thing has come up before and I’ll tell you all I know. You see, you live in Zone B—two-acre lots, no commercial enterprises and so forth. A couple of years ago some stranger bought the old Plewett mansion and it turned out that he was planning to operate it as a funeral home. We didn’t have any zoning provision at the time that would protect us and one was rushed through the Village Council at midnight and they overdid it. It seems that you not only can’t have a funeral home in Zone B—you can’t bury anything there and you can’t die there. Of course it’s absurd, but we all make mistakes, don’t we? Now there are two things you can do. I’ve had to deal with this before. You can take the old lady and put her into the car and drive her over to Chestnut Street, where Zone C begins. The boundary is just beyond the traffic light by the high school. As soon as you get her over to Zone C, it’s all right. You can just say she died in the car. You can do that or if this seems distasteful you can call the Mayor and ask him to make an exception to the zoning laws. But I can’t write you out a death certificate until you get her out of that neighborhood and of course no undertaker will touch her until you get a death certificate."
      "I don’t understand," I said, and I didn’t, but then the possibility that there was some truth in what he had just told me broke against me or over me like a wave, exciting mostly indignation. "I’ve never heard such a lot of damned foolishness in my life," I said. "Do you mean to tell me that I can’t die in one neighborhood and that I can’t fall in love in another and that I can’t eat..
      "Listen. Calm down, Moses. I’m not telling you anything but the facts and I have a lot of patients waiting. I don’t have the time to listen to you fulminate. If you want to move her, call me as soon as you get her over to the traffic light. Otherwise, I’d advise you to get in touch with the Mayor or someone on the Village Council." He cut the connection. I was outraged but this did not change the fact that Justina was still sitting on the sofa. I poured a fresh drink and lit another cigarette.
      Justina seemed to be waiting for me and to be changing from an inert into a demanding figure. I tried to imagine carrying her out to the station wagon but I couldn’t complete the task in my imagination and I was sure that I couldn’t complete it in fact. I then called the Mayor but this position in our village is mostly honorary and as I might have known he was in his New York law office and was not expected home until seven. I could cover her, I thought, that would be a decent thing to do, and I went up the back stairs to the linen closet and got a sheet. It was getting dark when I came back into the living room but this was no merciful twilight. Dusk seemed to be playing directly into her hands and she gained power and stature with the dark. I covered her with a sheet and turned on a lamp at the other end of the room but the rectitude of the place with its old furniture, flowers, paintings, etc., was demolished by her monumental shape. The next thing to worry about was the children, who would be home in a few minutes. Their knowledge of death, excepting their dreams and intuitions of which I know nothing, is zero and the bold figure in the parlor was bound to be traumatic. When I heard them coming up the walk I went out and told them what had happened and sent them up to their rooms. At seven I drove over to the Mayor’s.
      He had not come home but hewas expected at any minute and I talked with his wife. She gave me a drink. By this time I was chainsmoking. When the Mayor came in we went into a little office or library, where he took up a position behind a desk, putting me in the low chair of a supplicant. "Of course I sympathize with you, Moses," he said, "it’s an awful thing to have happened, but the trouble is that we can’t give you a zoning exception without a majority vote of the Village Council and all the members of the Council happen to be out of town. Pete’s in California and Jack’s in Paris and Larry won’t be back from Stowe until the end of the week."
      I was sarcastic. "Then I suppose Cousin Justina will have to gracefully decompose in my parlor until Jack comes back from Paris."
      "Oh no," he said, "oh no. Jack won’t be back from Paris for another month but I think you might wait until Larry comes from Stowe. Then we’d have a majority, assuming of course that they would agree to your appeal."
      "For Christ’s sake," I snarled.
      "Yes, yes," he said, "it is difficult, but after all you must realize that this is the world you live in and the importance of zoning can’t be overestimated. Why, if a single member of the Council could give out zoning exceptions, I could give you permission right now to open a saloon in your garage, put up neon lights, hire an orchestra, and destroy the neighborhood and all the human and commercial values we’ve worked so hard to protect."
      "I don’t want to open a saloon in my garage," I howled. "I don’t want to hire an orchestra. I just want to bury Justina."
      "I know, Moses, I know," he said. "I understand that. But it’s just that it happened in the wrong zone and if I make an exception for you I’ll have to make an exception for everyone and this kind of morbidity, when it gets out of hand, can be very depressing. People don’t like to live in a neighborhood where this sort of thing goes on all the time.
      "Listen to me," I said. "You give me an exception and you give it to me now or I’m going home and dig a hole in my garden and bury Justina myself."
      "But you can’t do that, Moses. You can’t bury anything in Zone B. You can’t even bury a cat."
      "You’re mistaken," I said. "I can and I will. I can’t function as a doctor and I can’t function as an undertaker, but I can dig a hole in the ground and if you don’t give me my exception, that’s what I’m going to do."
      "Come back, Moses, come back," he said. "Please come back. Look, I’ll give you an exception if you’ll promise not to tell anyone. It’s breaking the law, it’s a forgery but I’ll do it if you promise to keep it a secret."
      I promised to keep it a secret, he gave me the documents, and I used his telephone to make the arrangements. Justina was removed a few minutes after I got home but that night I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that I was in a crowded supermarket. It must have been night because the windows were dark. The ceiling was paved with fluorescent light—brilliant, cheerful but, considering our prehistoric memories, a harsh link in the chain of light that binds us to the past. Music was playing and there must have been at least a thousand shoppers pushing their wagons among the long corridors of comestibles and victuals. Now is there—or isn’t there—something about the posture we assume when we push a wagon that unsexes us? Can it be done with gallantry? I bring this up because the multitude of shoppers seemed that evening, as they pushed their wagons, penitential and unsexed. There were all kinds, this being my beloved country. There were Italians, Finns, Jews, Negroes, Shropshiremen, Cubans—anyone who had heeded the voice of liberty—and they were dressed with that sumptuary abandon that European caricaturists record with such bitter disgust. Yes, there were grandmothers in shorts, big-butted women in knitted pants, and men wearing such an assortment of clothing that it looked as if they had dressed hurriedly in a burning building. But this, as I say, is my own country and in my opinion the caricaturist who vilifies the old lady in shorts vilifies himself. I am a native and I was wearing buckskin jump boots, chino pants cut so tight that my sexual organs were discernible, and a rayon-acetate pajama top printed with representations of the Pinta, the Nina, and the Santa Maria in full sail. The scene was strange—the strangeness of a dream where we see familiar objects in an unfamiliar light—but as I looked more closely I saw that there were some irregularities. Nothing was labeled. Nothing was identified or known. The cans and boxes were all bare. The frozen-food bins were full of brown parcels but they were such odd shapes that you couldn’t tell if they contained a frozen turkey or a Chinese dinner. All the goods at the vegetable and the bakery counters were concealed in brown bags and even the books for sale had no titles. In spite of the fact that the contents of nothing was known, my companions of the dreamy thousands of bizarrely dressed compatriots—were deliberating gravely over these mysterious containers as if the choices they made were critical. Like any dreamer, I was omniscient, I was with them and I was withdrawn, and stepping above the scene for a minute I noticed the men at the check-out counters. They were brutes. Now, sometimes in a crowd, in a bar or a street, you will see a face so full-blown in its obdurate resistance to the appeals of love, reason, and decency, so lewd,so brutish and unregenerate, that you turn away. Men like these were stationed at the only way out and as the shoppers approached them they tore their packages open—I still couldn’t see what they contained—but in every case the customer, at the sight of what he had chosen, showed all the symptoms of the deepest guilt; that force that brings us to our knees. Once their choice had been opened to their shame they were pushed—in some cases kicked—toward the door and beyond the door I saw dark water and heard a terrible noise of moaning and crying in the air. They waited at the door in groups to be taken away in some conveyance that I couldn’t see. As I watched, thousands and thousands pushed their wagons through the market, made their careful and mysterious choices, and were reviled and taken away. What could be the meaning of this?
WE BURIED JUSTINA in the rain the next afternoon. The dead are not, God knows, a minority, but in Proxmire Manor their unexalted kingdom is on the outskirts, rather like a dump, where they are transported furtively as knaves and scoundrels and where they lie in an atmosphere of perfect neglect. Justina’s life had been exemplary, but by ending it she seemed to have disgraced us all. The priest was a friend and a cheerful sight, but the undertaker and his helpers, hiding behind their limousines, were not; and aren’t they at the root of most of our troubles, with their claim that death is a violet-flavored kiss? How can a people who do not mean to understand death hope to understand love, and who will sound the alarm?
      I went from the cemetery back to my office. The commercial was on my desk and MacPherson had written across it in grease pencil: Very funny, you broken-down bore. Do again. I was tired but unrepentant and didn’t seem able to force myself into a practical posture of usefulness and obedience. I did another commercial. Don’t lose your loved ones, I wrote, because of excessive radioactivity. Don’t be a wallflower at the dance because of strontium 90 in your bones. Don’t be a victim of fallout. When the tart on Thirty-sixth Street gives you the big eye does your body stride off in one direction and your imagination in another? Does your mind follow her up the stairs and taste her wares in revolting detail while your flesh goes off to Brooks Brothers or the foreign exchange desk of the Chase Manhattan Bank? Haven’t you noticed the size of the ferns, the lushness of the grass, the bitterness of the string beans, and the brilliant markings on the new breeds of butterflies? You have been inhaling lethal atomic waste for the last twenty-five years and only Elixircol can save you. I gave this to Raiphie and waited perhaps ten minutes, when it was returned, marked again with grease pencil. Do, he wrote, or you’ll be dead. I felt very tired. I put another piece of paper into the machine and wrote: The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me. Thou shalt prepare a table before me in the presence of them that trouble me; thou hast anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full. Surely thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.I gave this to Ralphie and went home.

book cover of 

Some People, Places, and Things That Will Not Appear in My Next Novel 


John Cheever       Bookseller Photo

milestones in American pulp: the cia, secret agents/pulp fiction novelists & jfk’s assassination

For this sentence alone Philip Atlee deserves an enduring spot in the annals of American pulp fiction:

"My rectal sphincter throbbed again, all I needed, and I said ‘nuts to you’ and locked my bowels."
— Philip Atlee, The Fer-De-Lance Contract

James Atlee Phillips (pen name Philip Atlee) whose "Contract" series of books was comprised of 22 novels about counter-intelligence agent Joe Gall. Gall, a so-called "nullifier," is sent by a secretive U.S. government agency to trouble spots around the globe in order to solve—that is, erase—the problem. Somewhat surprisingly, Raymond Chandler wrote of him: "I admire Philip Atlee’s writing enormously, the hard economy of style, the characterisations, and the interesting and varied backgrounds."

But there are reasons outside of his writing that make it worth remembering
Philip Atlee. For starters, there was more than one pulp novelist in the Atlee Philips family. James Atlee Phillips was the brother of well-known CIA officer David Atlee Phillips, long-rumoured to be an organizing force behind the assassination of JFK. 

In 1978, David Atlee Phillips published a novel about political assassins entitled The Carlos Contract: A Novel of International Terrorism. And then things get more interesting… here are a couple of tantalizing quotes from the Web page

First, David Atlee Phillips, who died of canceron July 7, 1988, left behind an unpublished manuscript entitled The AMLASH Legacy, a novel about a CIA officer working at the Mexico City station in 1963.  From the novel:

I was one of the two case officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald. After working to establish his Marxist bona fides, we gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba. I helped him when he came to Mexico City to obtain a visa, and when he returned to Dallas to wait for it I saw him twice there. We rehearsed the plan many times: In Havana Oswald was to assassinate Castro with a sniper’s rifle from the upper floor window of a building on the route where Castro often drove in an open jeep. Whether Oswald was a double-agent or a psycho I’m not sure, and I don’t know why he killed Kennedy. But I do know he used precisely the plan we had devised against Castro. Thus the CIA did not anticipate the President’s assassination but it was responsible for it. I share that guilt.


There’s also a January, 2003 e-mail by James Atlee Phillips’ son (the folk rock singer Shawn Phillips) to JFK assassination researcher Gary Buell:

The "Confession", you refer to was not in so many words as such. I cannot remember the time frames involved, but this was what was told to me by my father, James Atlee Phillips, who is deceased. He said that David had called him with reference to his (Davids), invitation to a dinner, by a man who was purportedly writing a book on the CIA. At this dinner, was also present a man who was identified only as the "Driver". David told Jim that he knew the man was there to identify him as Raul Salcedo, whose name you should be familiar with, if your research is accurate in this matter. David then told Jim that he had written a letter to the various media, as a "Preemptive Strike," against any and all allegations about his involvement in the JFK assassination. Jim knew that David was the head of the "Retired Intelligence Officers of the CIA", or some such organization, and that he was extremely critical of JFK, and his policies. Jim knew at that point, that David was in some way, seriously involved in this matter and he and David argued rather vehemently, resulting in a silent hiatus between them that lasted almost six years according to Jim. Finally, as David was dying of irreversible lung cancer, he called Jim and there was apparently no reconciliation between them, as Jim asked David pointedly, "Were you in Dallas on that day"? David said, "Yes", and Jim hung the phone up.

The final word on pulp fiction, the CIA and JFK’s murder must make mention of E. Howard Hunt, CIA operative and Watergate “plumber,” who was undoubtedly the greatest writer of pulps (47 novels under his own name and a number of pen names) of any government agency, ever. In January 2007, while on his deathbed, Hunt allegedly confessed to having extensive foreknowledge of the JFK assassination, implicating Lyndon Johnson and the CIA.

Here’s an excerpt from William F. Buckley’s obituary of Hunt:
I remember with sad amusement an earlier experience of Hunt’s with the law, this time involving his novels. Allen Dulles, then head of CIA, called him in one day and said, Howard, I know the rules are that this office has to clear all manuscripts by our agents. But you write so many, you’re wearing us out. So go ahead and publish your books without our clearance, but use a pseudonym.
Hunt handed me his latest book, "Catch Me in Zanzibar," by Gordon Davis. I leafed through it and found printed on the last page, "You have just finished another novel by Howard Hunt." I thought this hilarious. So did Howard. The reaction of Allen Dulles is not recorded.
In a 2004 audio recording Hunt named fellow pulp novelist David Phillips as a participant in the JFK assassination:
I heard from Frank [Sturgis] that LBJ had designated Cord Meyer, Jr. to undertake a larger organization while keeping it totally secret. Cord Meyer himself was a rather favored member of the Eastern aristocracy. He was a graduate of Yale University and had joined the Marine Corps during the war and lost an eye in the Pacific fighting.
I think that LBJ settled on Meyer as an opportunist like himself and a man who had very little left to him in life ever since JFK had taken Cord’s wife as one of his mistresses. I would suggest that Cord Meyer welcomed the approach from LBJ, who was after all only the Vice President at that time and of course could not number Cord Meyer among JFK’s admirers—quite the contrary.
As for Dave Phillips, I knew him pretty well at one time. He worked for me during the Guatemala project. He had made himself useful to the agency in Santiago, Chile where he was an American businessman. In any case, his actions, whatever they were, came to the attention of the Santiago station chief and when his resume became known to people in the Western hemisphere division he was brought in to work on Guatemalan operations.
Sturgis and Morales and people of that ilk stayed in apartment houses during preparations for the big event. Their addresses were very subject to change, so that where a fellow like Morales had been one day, you’d not necessarily associated [sic] with that address the following day. In short, it was a very mobile experience.
Let me point out at this point, that if I had wanted to fictionalize what went on in Miami and elsewhere during the run up for the big event, I would have done so. But I don’t want any unreality to tinge this particular story, or the information, I should say. I was a benchwarmer on it and I had a reputation for honesty.
I think it’s essential to refocus on what this information that I’ve been providing you — and you alone, by the way — consists of. What is important in the story is that we’ve backtracked the chain of command up through Cord Meyer and laying [sic] the doings at the doorstep of LBJ. He, in my opinion, had an almost maniacal urge to become President. He regarded JFK, as he was in fact, an obstacle to achieving that. He could have waited for JFK to finish out his term and then undoubtedly a second term. So that would have put LBJ at the head of a long list of people who were waiting for some change in the executive branch.

One can’t help wondering if these dead pulp novelists would have proven to be less dangerous if they had had less of the pulp novelistic imagination in them: history could have been significant;y different but for these CIA officers and operatives adhering to a "boy’s own adventures" credo of live by the pulps, die by the pulps. It seems fitting that Hunt may one day be best remembered through the portrayal of him by one of JFK’s greatest admirers, Norman Mailer, in his 1991 novel Harlot’s Ghost.

Some of E. Howard Hunt’s book covers:

the violent ones by macavityabc.

i came to kill by macavityabc.

one of our agents is missing by macavityabc.

the towers of silence by macavityabc.

HOUSE DICK by levar.

bimini run by macavityabc.

end of a stripper by macavityabc.

calypso caper by macavityabc.