Diana Athill, July 5, 1964

From Project Mailer
597 Commercial Street
Provincetown, Massachusetts
July 5, 1964

Dear Diana,[1]

On the negative side, I have only a few comments for the catalogue page. I think “evil wife” oversimplifies too much. I think “tragic, tormented, half-evil wife” or something of that ilk might be more satisfactory. Also, “sane love” with Cherry sounds hygienic. "To find some part of his dream of love" might be more what we need. Outside of that, I think it's fine. But I also think we're giving away too much by saying that An American Dream is so unlike “mannerly British fictions,” for it seems to me that the virtuoso aspect of An American Dream is that it is so mannered a book. Violent people always are mannerly, or chaos would result if there were not a spectrum of manners in their dealings with each other. Now this has always fascinated the British—Hammett, Chandler, so forth. But of course the manners they showed there were essentially false ones. The reality is curious and somehow subtler, and I was trying to get toward that reality in An American Dream. But I think it would be a serious mistake to abdicate from any claims this novel can make in the dominion of manners, because it is precisely by the play of manners that I've tried to tell the story. One could even go so far perhaps as to argue that the novel is a study of the bizarre, incisive, and very elaborate manners of some of the kinds of people who live in the social worlds and under-worlds of New York. So I think we might emphasize the book is in its way as mannered as a novel by Henry James. What creates the—it is to be hoped—fascinating confusion is that the material is closer to a Mickey Spillane.

By the way, Diana, how do you all feel about the end of the book? There's been not a word about that from Andre or from you. If you’re unhappy, now’s the time to talk, because I hope to put in about five to ten thousand words and take out a little of the old, all of this to be accomplished by September 1. Since I’m also going to do the Republican Convention, there’ll be only a few weeks for this, probably from August 10 to September 1. But in the month between, there would certainly be time to get your comments. Please believe me, I’m not so delicate as to be afraid of negative comments. And this can go right down to the individual sentences. It’s really a good idea to let me know now whatever bothers you and Andre. Of course, if the end is a vast disappointment to you . . . But then I hope not. I was so tired by the time I finished I was willing to accept any external verdict that it was very good or very bad. The good remarks I heard were that it was very good, by then it was the agent and publisher who said that, and they’re not exactly similar to the critics in their interest. At any rate, give us a reaction.

Best for now,
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.


  1. Diana Athill was a British literary editor, novelist, and memoirist. Mailer complains here of the way the British edition of An American Dream is described in the Deutsch catalogue of forthcoming books.