murder was attributable to the brutalizationncaused by the American prisonnsystem itself: Abbott’s letters, publishednas memoirs under Mailer’snguidance, bore the ideological title Innthe Belly of the Beast.nFor a certain circle of East Coastnliterati, Abbott soon became an irresistiblensymbol of their own alienationnfrom American bourgeois society andnvalues; ensconced in their Central ParknWest apartments, they too suffered “innthe belly of the Beast.” So it wasn’t toonlong before the political pull of Mailernand others won Jack Abbott an earlynparole from prison, and entrance intona halfway house in New York City.nThe idea, presumably, was that in thisngentler, more humane environment,nAbbott’s literary genius would be freernto create. But he didn’t create. Instead,nwithin a few weeks of his release to thenhalfway house, Abbott killed again.nThis time he knifed a waiter in a barnduring an argument over the use of thenbar’s toilet facilities. Abbott fled, butnwas eventually recaptured, tried, andnsent back to prison; he was later seennon 60 Minutes, making racist remarksnto Ed Bradley.nThe symbol of alienation hadnturned out to be a very real, and a veryndangerous, human being. But the onlynirreparable damage done was to Abbott’snvictim, the waiter: RichardnAdan, only 22 years old, and (it turnsnout) a promising playwright himself. Itnis Adan’s death which transforms whatnotherwise would be a delicious highncomedy of American literary life into anbitter tragedy. Adan’s relatives werenunderstandably outraged when theynlearned of the unusual sequence ofnevents that had led to their son’s deathnat the hands of Jack Abbott—outragednat Abbott, at Mailer, at the penalnsystem’s susceptibility to fashionablenpolitical pressure.nBut what was truly shocking wasnMailer’s attitude. Although Mailernhad taken the precaution of hiringnbodyguards to protect himself when henlearned that Abbott had killed againnand was on the loose, at the trial fornAdan’s murder Mailer proclaimed thatnAbbott still deserved our deep understanding,nthat he should not be lockednaway forever, that genius ought to benallowed some privileges.nIncredibly, Mailer’s view on thenmatter seems to have prevailed—atnleast in Washington. Last June andnJuly, a theatrical dramatization of JacknAbbott’s memoirs played — to ravenreviews—at the Kennedy Center fornthe Performing Arts, the most prestigiousnand lavish setting possible. EntitiednIn the Belly of the Beast, the playnfocuses on Jack Abbott, portrayingnhim in his own words. Predictably, thenplay (adapted and directed by RobertnFalls of Chicago), takes as its thementhe victimization of Jack Abbott by anheartiess American society, particularlynthe American prison system. Abbott’snfinal words in the play aren”Anger always burns inside me.” Abbottnmay be portrayed as menacing,nbut he is also portrayed sympathetically.nAnd it is instructive here hownmuch dramatic energy is spent onnsearching out the essential humanitynwithin Jack Abbott (compared by onenecstatic reviewer to Sophocles’ Oedipus),nwhile an eviscerated victim isnpresented only symbolically—by annold mattress with its stuffing spillingnout.nIn the Belly of the Beast has finishednits run in Washington now, but thenplay undoubtedly will be appearing innother cities around the country—asnsoon, that is, as it returns from itsnLondon engagement. Meanwhile,ncertain writers have found Jack Abbott’snmemoirs so attractive that therenis actually a second theatrical versionnof In the Belly of the Beast currentiynmaking the rounds. This separate secondnversion of Abbott’s memoirs originatesnin Los Angeles, but its basicntheme is naturally the same: the plightnof Jack Abbott. With Abbott back innintellectual fashion, perhaps wenshould begin to steel ourselves for anproduction of In the Belly of the Beastnon PBS.nNow, it is possible that Jack Abbottnreally was brutalized by the Americannprison system (where conditions arenhorrible and getting worse all thentime). But it is at least equally possiblenthat Abbott was, from the beginning,nsimply a very clever and uncontrollablenpsychopath. We must wonder hownhe could possibly have felt “victimized”nby Richard Adan or why henfelt justified in killing him. We mustnwonder, too, how much Mailer understoodnAbbott and how much Abbottnsimply manipulated Mailer. Mail-nPOETRY lOUKNALnPlains Poetry Journal is like North Dakota: a well-kept secret. Traditionalnpoetic conventions forged into vigorous, compelling new poetry. We’renwhat you despaired of finding! Sample for $3.50; heartening manifesto fornSASE. Plains Poetry Journal, P.O. Box 2337, Bismarck, ND 58502.nnnMARCH 1986141n