November 15, 2007
My friend, Norman Mailer
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"Who is that?" he asked, like the aged Isaac in the Bible when Jacob comes for a blessing.
"It's Mashey," I said, leaning in so he could see me more clearly.
He grabbed my arm and held on: "Mashey, Mashey, how wonderful, how wonderful that you came."
His eyes glistened with tears, and mine did, too. We talked for a few minutes and made plans to meet later that year when I was to come to Provincetown for the annual meeting of the Norman Mailer Society, one of the few such societies devoted to a living author. Alas, it was not meant to be. He took ill a few days before I arrived. And now he is gone.
Writing on Henry Miller, Mailer once noted that "a writer of the largest dimension can alter the nerves and marrow of a nation."
I think it is an apt appraisal of Mailer's own contribution to America's literature and consciousness. Like a true prophet, Mailer was not always appreciated in his own time -- he was dropped by the Norton Anthology of Literature in its latest edition -- but he will always be someone whose work speaks to what it means to be an American. I will miss my friend dearly.
The Jewish Journal obituary notices will return in next week's issue.
Mashey Bernstein teaches in the Writing Program at UC Santa Barbara. Some of Mailer's letters to Dr. Bernstein will be published next year in the "Collected Letters of Norman Mailer."
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