Diana Athill, February 25, 1965

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142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
February 25, 1965

Dear Diana,

The jacket aroused my fury on two counts.[1] 1) The girl on the cover doesn’t bear the remotest resemblance to Deborah, Cherry, or even Ruta. The result, so far as I am concerned, is that people will be imagining a woman who does not correspond to any of the women in the book. You know, when you spend a lot of time working on a character, trying to etch their outlines clearly, it’s not agreeable to see the work overturned by a gimmick. I really wish I’d been consulted on the jacket.

Which brings me to the second point. 2) I don’t mind not having a photograph of myself on the book, but the gentleman in the car wreck on the back of the jacket is unmistakably a dog-faced version of this particular pen. Now Diana, I need that about as much as you do. 3) (I find there’s a third objection after all) That is the value of the jacket altogether. It’s a most interesting painting, not terribly good, not altogether good, not altogether bad, but it manages to indicate symbolically just about every element of the book, which means that people are going to be picturing the book through the artist’s eyes as much as through mine, and that’s going to result in a doubling of the effect which may prove fatal. It’s one thing for me to create an atmosphere of horror, it’s another to drench the reader in a state of horror before he begins to read the book. If you’re going to dare playing an entire composition in the key of C, it’s not necessarily wise to strike thirty chords in the key of C before you begin. Now I grant you the jacket is the first of it’s kind, etc., etc., and I’m sure that everyone in the book industry will notice it, and people in the book stores will notice it (of course if they do not look closely they will think it is the jacket of a paperback book) but what the jacket will not accomplish is a deepening of respect for the qualities of the book and that I insist is the single factor which will prove fatal. To push a novel by Norman Mailer as a best seller can only draw the wrath of the critics. Get a string of bad reviews, and you’re dead. This has been my argument from the beginning. It has not been listened to and I just [think] you’re all not dead wrong, though certainly I think you are.

Now one thing I must insist on. I want the photograph which Anne Barry took of me to be the sole photograph released for publicity. It’s a picture which in my opinion fits the book more closely than any other photograph I’ve ever had taken, and for that reason I want no other.

Best for now, Diana, and we’ll talk about my visit after we’ve cleared the air a little on these matters.

This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.


  1. Mailer’s extreme dissatisfaction with the dust jacket of the Deutsch edition may have led to the elimination of “the gentlemen in the car wreck” (one half of the painting) from the back of the dust jacket of the British book club edition that followed the Deutsch edition.