THE DEER PARK by Norman Maller


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This book has been the subject of heated controversy during the eight months since I saw the original galley proof. Since then it has been completely revised, and a quick glance through the new proof sheets confirms the publisher's claim that it is a ""better book"" -- and that much that was filthy, offensive and unnecessary has been eliminated. Nonetheless, since this office has produced two divergent opinions, we are doing what we have rarely done before, made this final report a composite of the two.... ""The author has chosen another big theme for this, his third novel,- that of two men who reach important turning points in their lives at the same time and same place, by coincidence, and under the stresses and strains of life at any time and particularly life today- what decisions they make and what ways they choose. At Desert D'Or, a symbolic new city in the California desert, not far from Hollywood, Charles Eitel, a successful director of superior but still Hollywoodish films, finds himself at low ebb because of prior political casualness, consequent trouble with a Senate Committee and tax difficulties. He meets the narrator, sergius O'Shaugnessy, Korean veteran, Air Force, on a fling with $14,000 gambling winnings, but who wants to be a writer. Each is drifting towards a desert; each is seeking a way into a future. Eitel's affair with Elena, a sexually versatile woman, begins in excitement, continues in boredom, ends in despair, and renews in a marriage of compassion, providing a parallel with his excited attempt to revive his waning creativity, the failure of the attempt, the conviction that he is not an artist but only a good commercial hack, his political recantation and his return to the world of Hollywood. Sergius, too, has an affair with Lulu Moyers, a star of some magnitude; it, too, ends in despair -- but is not renewed, and he remains true to his ambition to be a serious writer. There are other characters at turning points:- Marion Fayc, a sort of Aldous Huxley figure; Herman Teppis, the twisted head of Supreme Pictures; Collic Munshin, on his way up; Teddy Pope, on his way down. Mailer once again writes with great drive and with an honesty which gives the book considerable power. But he has two faults which mar the book. He does not make his women real, but merely projections of his male characters. And -- lacking the device of the army unit which held The Naked and the Dead together so convincingly, he tends to be loose structurally and to lose direction. Nonetheless, this is a strong and interesting book which should attract readers. Much has been said about this being a 'dirty' book. This reader feels that it is not dirty. Its primary concern is not sex, though sex plays an important part in all his characters and is vital to the plot. And Mailer is assuredly frank in his writing. The story, while not for the squeamish, is not offensive."" And -- from the other report - ""'What do you think, sex it's the whole world?' one of the unsavory characters in this book asks of another, a confessed homosexual. And apparently, if one takes a composite picture of The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore and this book, sex is the whole world. Maller's first book had much to recommend it; its faults seemed the faults of the unselectivity of youth. Harbary Shore was a mistake. I felt on reading The Deer Park originally that it was a catastrophe, good neither for author nor publisher. Now- on second look- some of the too obvious crudities have been eliminated, the book brought into better focus. But I still think it a bad book and a dull one. Despite the disclaimer that everyone in Desert D'Or has had an unusual career it might seem possible there would be one decent normal person, and not just an array of call girls, fancy women, men to whom matrimony was a disaster or something to avoid, pimps, and perverts. Looked at through the small end of the glasses one can well ask Is Sex Necessary? Dr. Kinsey to the contrary notwithstanding."" -- So- well warned, make your choice.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1955
Publisher: Putnam