"If you like gossip, you'll adore Ex-Friends," columnist Liz Smith has said. And, boy, does archconservative Norman Podhoretz's account of his bitter splits with important American intellectuals rollick. See Norman Mailer, whom critic Podhoretz gave a crucial early boost, get naked and attempt a three-way with his girlfriend and Podhoretz! (Podhoretz tried orgies, pot, and speed, but hated them as much as Kerouac's and Bellow's novels). Hear Mailer's tale after he stabbed his wife almost to death and ran straight to Podhoretz's place! Thrill as critic Allen Tate challenges editor William Barrett to a death-duel over Ezra Pound's Bollingen Award! As Woody Allen said of the literati Podhoretz calls "the Family," "They only kill their own."
Ex-Friends is a nifty if one-sided sketch of the intellectual gang wars, and it captures people more two-faced than does a Cubist painting. After ideas, writes Podhoretz, the Family's second passion was "gossiping with the wittiest possible malice about anyone who had the misfortune not to be present." Podhoretz only discovered Hannah Arendt's faked friendship by reading the published letters of Arendt and Mary McCarthy, and he nails her for her German chauvinism and impenetrable arrogance. He trashes Allen Ginsberg, who published Podhoretz's first poem, for Ginsberg's outrageous grandstanding, and because homosexuality outrages him. He liked Lillian Hellman partly because she gave glamorous parties, and stomps her for loyalty to Stalin's party and her prose ("an imitation of Hammett's imitation of Hemingway"). He skewers many besides the celebs in his subtitle, including Joseph Heller, whose Catch-22 he helped make a hit. He won Jackie Onassis's affection by returning her put-down with a quick "F--- you," like the Brooklyn street tough he was and remains. Mailer betrayed him for not getting him invited to Jackie's party.
The Family had big ideas--and, as Podhoretz proves, egos as big as thin-skinned dodo eggs. --Tim Appelo
Ex-Friends is filled with brilliant portraits of some of the cultural icons who defined our time. While it has some of the elements of a personal diary, it is also a journal de combat describing the intellectual and social turbulence of the 60s and 70s and showing how the literary living room was transformed into a political battleground where the meaning of America was fought night by night.
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