The Castle in the Forest. New York: Random House, 23 January. Novel, 477 pp., $26.95.
Dedication: “To my grandchildren, Valentina Colodro, Alejandro Colodro, Isabella Moschen, Christina Marie Nastasi, Callan Mailer, Theodore Mailer, Natasha Lancaster, Mattie James Mailer, Cyrus Force Mailer, and to my grand-niece Eden River Alson as well to my godchildren, Kittredge Fisher, Clay Fisher, Sebastian Rosthal, and Julian Rosthal.” Mailer:
Off hand, I can’t name a serious novel where an Assistant to the Devil is the one to tell the tale, but I found the choice curiously liberating. It allowed me to enter people’s minds at will, which is of course one of the strengths of nineteenth-century fiction. You can go into any mind the author chooses to enter, and so are able to live with characters as they appear on the surface, and also as they feel within. Of course, these novels were corseted by nineteenth-century moral strictures. Sexual lines of inquiry were hardly pursued. Now, I did use the third-person omniscient in The Naked and the Dead [48.2], I went into everyone’s head without worrying about it unduly. It never occurred to me that this had become an aesthetic problem. The success of The Naked and the Dead obliged me, however, to become more sensitive to the improbability of casual omniscience. Obviously, if I was going to keep writing fiction I had to develop a bit. I will say that ever since I have been preoccupied with the problem. I certainly wrestled with it in The Deer Park. How do you inhabit more than one person’s mind? How do you avoid the manacles of the first person observer without violating something ineffable in the presentation? So I was delighted when, behold, I had this Assistant to the Devil ready to tell the tale. Because then you could certainly explore your character’s minds, not the least of whom could be young Adolf Hitler. (72.22)