REVIEWSrnMea Culparnby George GarrettrnEx-Friends: Falling Out With AllenrnGinsberg, Lionel & Diana Trilling,rnLillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt,rnand Norman Mailerrnby Norman PodhoretzrnNew York: The Free Press;rn256pp.J25.00rnDear Norman,rnThis is the second (and probably thernlast) time I have written to you. The firstrntime was way back in tumultuous 1968rnwhen, as a kind of review of your bookrnMaking It, for tlie Hollins Critic, I wroternyou an open letter entitled “My SilkrnPurse and Yours; Making It, StarringrnNorman Podhoretz.” When I collectedrnthat same review as the title piece of arngathering of literary criticism in 1992, Irndidn’t really change anything, but had tornadmit in a headnote thatrnPodhoretz has gone a long way, inrnhis own way, since Making It (1968).rnMy piece no longer applies.. .rnMaking It was not a “bad” book. Irnseem to have thought it was unintentionallyrnfiinn in many wa’srnthat our late twentieth centuryrnworld is unintentionally funnyrnand unbearably sad.rnOne of the recurring motifs of this newbook,rnyour fifth since then, is how manyrnpeople bombed Making It, mostly, itrnseems, because they simply refused to allowrnthe validih’ and integrit)’ of your argumentrnin that book that the intellectualsrnand the literati, including, of course,rnyourself, are most powerfully driven byrnpersonal ambition whether they admit itrnor not. You admitted it and took somernheat for telling the plain truth. The peoplernthat you call “The Family” in Ex-rnFriends seem, by and large, to have beenrnmore than a little unhappy to have beenrnexposed to your pitiless light.rn1 doubt that you remember me or myrnpiece, guessing that you never saw it.rnHoping that maybe you missed it. Because,rnthough it did not question yourrnmain point, in fact firmly agreed with itrnand with you, the review was neverthelessrna wiseass, smartmouth piece of work,rnbased on the youthful fallacy that ourrncelebrity culture was not likely to prevail,rnthat a bunch of cosmopolitan New Yorkersrnwere not really and truly shaping andrnmanipulahng the conscience and consciousnessrnof our vast and wildly diversernnaUon.rn1 don’t apologize for my folly, but 1 dorndeeply regret having been so dreadfullyrnwrong.rnMuch has changed since then. Yournhave left the left behind, an act ofrncourage in your crowd; and you havernserved influenhally as the embattled andrnoften impassioned editor of Commentaryrnfor more than ?0 years. Sometimes I hadrnno other choice than to agree with yournabout this and that. I would not agree,rnthen or now, that these people, these distinguishedrnex-friends (and others yournmention here and there like, for instance.rnJack Keronac and Jackie Kennedy) reallyrnhad a whole helluva lot to do with thernway we (Americans) live or die, think andrnfeel, today or ever. There is no denying,rnNorman, that the celebrity culture hasrnoerwhelmed us and our common sense;rnno denying, then, that your new book, byrnits very existence, is plugged into thernpower and light of celebrity and that thernfuir of it all is to get your “take” on Ginsberg,rnthe Trillings, Hannah Arendt, Hellman,rnand Mailer. For this to work as wellrnas it does, you, too, must emerge as a kindrnof celebrity, a mover and shaker all onrnyour own.rnFor the sake of any potential readers,rnlet me say that this is a lively book, full ofrngood gossip, some of it fresh and new,rnand many memorable airecdotes. Thesernpeople, your erstwhile friends, from timernto time surprise us even as they confirmrnthe public images they have chosen torncultivate. And for a little while, thanks tornthe persuasive context you have deftlyrncreated and to the presented character ofrnyour narrator (yourself), it is possiblernbriefly to suspend disbelief and to imaginernthat these folks, this Family, reallyrnwere (in the jacket copy of your publisher)rn”the finest minds of their generation,”rnpossessing “a level of erudition almost extinct.”rnPossible also to take at face valuernthe hyperbolic blurbs (a string of pearls)rnby Paul Johnson, Cynthia Ozick, WilliamrnBennett, William Kristol, MariornVargas Llosa, Robert Bork, and Jeane J.rnKirkpatrick, and possible even to acceptrnthe validity of your own final self-appraisalrn—”In all truth, 1 much prefer whornI am to who I was.” An enviable condition!rnWhat 1 am trying to say is that this newrnbook offers plenty of pleasure while itrnlasts and as long as the reader is able tornignore the astonishing claim that all ourrngood ideas, all too soon to become publicrnpolicy, come to us directly from the livingrnrooms and dinner parties of a little grouprnof New Yorkers whose demonstrablernflaws of character should at the very leastrnlimit their power and influence over others.rnBut—considering the flawed charactersrnof all our political leaders from top tornbottom, maybe you are right, Norman.rnMaybe we do owe you and these othersrnmore than we can imagine, includingrnsome gratitude to you personally for,rnonce again, letting the cat out of the bag,rnas they say.rnGood luck with this book. I enjoyed itrnand cheerfully recommend it to othersrn.. . with reservations.rnYours truly,rnGeorge GarrettrnP.S. By the way, Norman, 1 don’t know ifrnyou noticed it or not, but your publisherrnhas a different subtifle for the book in thernpublicity release prepared by one CynthiarnHoof—Ex-Friends: The Civil Wars ofrnthe New York Intellectuals. I find myselfrnwondering which subhtle is really yours.rn1 kind of like The Civil Wars one becausernit sounds a little less like People magazinernor Vanity Fair.rnGeorge Garrett is the Henry HoynsrnProfessor of English at the Universityrnof Virginia. His most recent book isrnBad Man Blues (Southern MethodistrnUniversity Press).rnLooking forrna good book?rnCheck out reviews from ourrnback issues online atrnwww.chroniclesmagazine .orgrn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn