Wednesday, December 24, 2014

And one more hit o' the old Maileriana for the road...

The back cover dust jacket of my prized first edition of George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle boasts a blurb from Norman Mailer that could only have been written in the early 1970s:

"What dialogue! Higgins may be the American writer who is closest to Henry Green. What I can't get over is that so good a first novel was written by the fuzz."

The fuzz. How quaint that word seems in this era of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and militarized police forces that act like occupying armies. Like 'honky' and 'spade' and 'groovy,' fuzz is a linguistic artifact of late-60s-early-70s American Hipster English. Another notable usage occurs in the Woodstock documentary when Arlo Guthrie speaks from the stage about "rappin' to the fuzz" that the New York State Thruway is closed, man.

But Mailer's usage is perhaps not entirely correct. When he published the book, Higgins was an Assistant U. S. Attorney, and before that he worked organized crime cases in the Massachusetts State Attorney General's office. (Or as one of his characters might've put it: Oh yeah, he knew Whitey. You bet he knew Whitey. He knew Whitey before Whitey was Whitey...) So, to be precise, the late great George V. wasn't merely the fuzz, he was the superfuzz.

Also, I wouldn't have pegged Mailer as a Henry Green fan, but I guess he was. This must be the only thing Norman and John Updike had in common--aside, possibly, from a literary groupie or two.