"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
From Publishers Weekly
The subtitle is an impressive list, and in the process of recalling his quarrels, most of which naturally revolved around matters political and literary, Podhoretz sheds a great deal of light on relationships within "the Family"?that is, the mostly Jewish New York intellectual establishment of the 1950s and '60s. Podhoretz, even before he became editor of Commentary in 1958, was very much a part of the group and at first shared many of its radical ideas. As he became a family man (lower case), the Cold War heated up and the '60s youth rebellion turned many of his newly acquired values on their head. He moved rapidly to the right, to the point where he is now mockingly referred to by many on the left as "the Frother." Still, pace his many critics, he remains a lively writer, and these accounts of relationships gone awry are a fine blend of polemics and sharp character sketches. If it is difficult to imagine today's Podhoretz wandering the midnight streets in a haze of alcoholic good fellowship with Jack Kerouac or helping Mailer hide from the police after he had stabbed his wife, he assures us that these events took place. Podhoretz's position throughout is that, although he always began in admiration of his friends' imagination and vitality, their moral, political or aesthetic excesses eventually forced a rift. In Podhoretz's view, he had "finally come to my senses after a decade of experimenting with radical ideas that were proving dangerous to me and destructive to America." Although he concludes that "I much prefer who I am to what I was," Podhoretz concedes, elegiacally, that he misses the sense of shared community and excitement he once knew with so many notable ex-friends.
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