Ron Rosenbaum

Oh, no: Did I Kill Norman Mailer?

Got a really nice note from the distinguished former editor of Texas Monthly Greg Curtis who’s been doing work for the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown Mailer’s hoe base (when not in Brooklyn) and which seems to be agoing concern, gviing grants and advice to promising young writers.

Greg told me that Mailer’s writing area in his Provincetown place had been kept exactly as he left it when he had to break off writing and succumbed to his final fatal illness. And according to Greg, there in the middle of Mailer’s writing desk is a copy of my book Explaining Hitler.

I’d heard this before. Mailer and I had shared a gifted editor at Random House David Ebershoff and he’d been up to Mailer’s place shortly after he died and seen my book there on that desk. But I didn’t realize they were going to preserve things, well, forever, just as they’d been left. It’s not suprizing he was reading the Hitler book. Or re-reading it. One of the things he was working on, he’d told me in an interview I did, one of his last,, was that he was working on the second volume of what he meant to be a trilogy of Hitler novels, this one to get deeper into the mystery of Hitler’s relationship to his putative “mistress” (and half-niece), Geli Raubal, and her mysterious gunshot death in 1931, in Hitler’s apartment house, shortly before Hitler first ran for chancellor.

Conspiracy theorists (inaccurately I believe) have tried to pin the blame, put the gun in Hitler’s hand. In my book I argue that Hitler’s creepy attentions and possessiveness may have driven Geli to suicide, but Hitler didn’t fire the gun that put a bullet in her lung.

In fact when I learned that Mailer was writing about Hitler and Geli Raubal I even wrote < ahref="">a column warning Mailer not to go down that dead end road which all too many had sought to travel to the interior of Hitler’s mind, using his alleged deviant sexuality as a vehicle. Too easy! Plus it exculpates us: Hitler wasn’t “normal” in every way, therefore “normal” human beings such as us didn’t have the potential for evil he represented.

So you think I might be proud that my book was on his desk, on his mind, when the often brilliant writer, one of the most distinctive American voices in the past century, died. But there’s another interpretation. He was already ill, in his eighties and this Hitler trilogy was to be his last masterpiece. He’d been proceding along a Geli Raubal explanation of Hitler’s psychology–after all Mailer loved nothing more than the conjunction of sex, death and evil. And then he read my column refuting the Geli Raubal theory, went back to my book, which refuted it in depth, and hated so much my contradiction of the juicy possiilities of the story that…well, who knows?

I plead innocent. I dont think he’d allow my version of history to block his version of fiction. I’d feel terrible if it’s true. Hearing from Greg Curtis revived my feelings of guilt about something you would think I should feel gratifed about.

I didn’t know him well; there were some old Village Voice connections (his best friend Dan Wolf, founding editor of the Voice was my first editor/mentor), and we’d run into each other at political conventions and other public spectactles. He always had a kind word and we were obsessed with similar questions such as Oswald and Hitler. So Norman, if you’re listening somewhere, forgive me, dude, if my speculations–or my admonitory column–caused you pain.

I don’t believee that’s really the case but one thing that is true is that, in a sense we’re all trying to figure out the nature and source of evil, we’re all “explaining Hitler”, or at least trying. It’s a killer question. Maybe he thought he’d at last found the answer and then…