Christopher Ricks

  • Tough guys don’t dance by Norman Mailer
    Joseph, 231 pp, £8.95, October 1984, ISBN 0 7181 2454 5

Someone has it in for Timothy Madden. Warned by a cop that the cops may be about to take an interest in his stashed cache of marijuana, Madden goes to exhume it. He finds instead a head. Blond, it doesn’t bear gazing upon, but it does have some resemblance both to Madden’s wife Patty, who recently upped and left him, and to Jessica Pond, a new consolatory excitement of his. The next time Madden turns to the scene of the crime (is it his crime? his drink-bludgeoned immemory is not the least of his worries), things have monstrously reverted to normalcy. ‘The head was gone. Just the footlocker with its jars of marijuana remained.’ This has its affinities not only with the world of a Chandler (which Mailer burns at both ends), but also with Romantic Gothic. The inhumed human head, the herb: Isabella, or the Pot of Pot. Some Keatsian byplay is kept up by the heroine’s being called Madeleine (almost right); and Madeleine Falco is an Italian not a Maltese Falco. Nomen est omen. The plot against Madden is on purpose laid to make the taker mad. Before long the revenger has decided that two heads are better than one.

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