In a piece in the Los Angeles Times Morris Dickstein discusses three literary icons who died in 2007:
American fiction lost three of its most warmly admired figures this year, all dead at the age of 84 after long careers. Critics love the idea of literary generations, but it would be a challenge to find themes or ideas to link the disparate work of Norman Mailer, Grace Paley and Kurt Vonnegut. At a Paris Review gala last spring, Mailer spoke about Hemingway’s enormous influence despite his inability to portray a convincing woman character (a charge sometimes leveled at Mailer himself). Hemingway made up for it, he said, by creating a style. In more modest ways, this could be said about Mailer, Paley and Vonnegut as well. No one would mistake a paragraph of theirs for the prose of another writer.
Dickstein focus on “something these contemporaries . . . had in common: a sense of the breakdown of the novel, blurring the lines between literary fiction and autobiography, but also poetry in Paley’s case, science fiction for Vonnegut, journalism and social criticism for Mailer.”
Of Mailer, Dickstein says, “For all his public antics, Mailer’s most memorable exploits took place in the arena of the sentence: arresting metaphors, paradoxical speculations, physical details that made a personality tangible.”
He says “Paley created a distinctive female voice” and also “was dead serious about leftist politics, to which she devoted as much energy as to writing and teaching.”
And Vonnegut “saw himself as an ordinary Joe with a small, peculiar gift.”
“With their accumulated wisdom, these three writers’ living presence mattered, but we might miss them more if they had not left so much behind.”