Not a Review of a Major New Novel by One
of America's Greatest Men of Letters


Friday, October 27:

Started the morning late. Felt tired. Meant to write a bit. Felt lost. Read literary blogs instead. Felt angry. Switched to porno. Felt sad. Checked my email. Agreed to review a book about Hitler.

Felt wanted.

Tuesday, November 8:

Hitler book came today, a 467-page doorstop by Norman Mailer. “Or should I,” I joked to my wife, “just tell you the length and girth?” I held it up for her to see.

“What,” she asked, “is that?”

“A book,” I said.

“About what?”


“Why?” she asked.

“There’s a swastika on the cover,” I said, holding the book out to her. “There’s a swastika on the cover.”

I have a Jewish armband in my closet. The armband is gray, and the word ‘Jude’ is stitched into the yellow star in the center. I bought it 13 years ago on the Upper East Side of Manhattan from a dusty old man in a dusty old store full of dusty old things. It was in a display case beneath a long row of ornamented SS knives and gleaming SS medals.

“Teenagers,” said the old man with a nod toward the case. “They love the stuff.”

He asked me my name and, upon hearing it, smiled and nodded. “Steinberg,” he said. “Sol.”

“Is that an armband?” I asked.

He told me it was, and that he had gotten it years ago from the son of a survivor. He told me the price was 100 dollars. I told him I had 50. He dropped to 80. I went to 60. He went to 70, I joked about two Jews haggling over a Nazi armband, shook his hand and felt like a hero. Later that day I bought a picture-box frame and fixed the armband inside using some rolled-up pieces of cello tape. I hung it on the wall of our kitchen, next to a clock we had bought at Ikea. The banality of evil, right beside to the banality of Scandinavian design.

“A major new novel,” I read to my wife from the back cover, “from one of America’s Greatest Men of Letters.”

I dropped the book onto the bed. It sank like an old man into the mattress, groaned, and asked me for a shtikel Alka-Seltzer.


Saturday, December 2:

In the Table of Contents alone, Hitler’s name appears six times. It appears five times in the publicist’s letter accompanying the book. This is an unfair mathematics; every book and every author, to say nothing of an author of Mailer’s stature and reputation, deserves to be judged by more than a few random, unrelated observations. But I can’t help it. The problem isn’t the book; the problem is everything that came before it. I grew up on graphic Holocaust film footage—the bulldozers moving the piles of dead, the dump trucks spilling them out, the ovens, the camps. As children, we were required by our yeshiva to watch Holocaust, the TV miniseries with a running time of just under eight hours, and to write a report on it one week later. Hitler was mentioned almost as often as God: Jesse Jackson was worse than Hitler, Al Sharpton was “another” Hitler, and any Jew who dared to violate Sabbath was “finishing what Hitler started.” I was told to never forget the Holocaust; I couldn’t if I tried.

The back cover of Mailer’s book mentions Hitler four times, but one of those is a mention of “three generations” of Hitlers, which technically makes for a total of six.

I emailed the editor.

“When do you need the review?” I asked.

“End of January,” he replied.


Wednesday, January 3:

A few years ago, I took the armband out of its frame and decided to see if I could get its authenticity verified. I phoned the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who told me to phone the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. I phoned the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who told me to phone the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. I phoned the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., who told me to phone Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

“We don’t do verification,” said the woman from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. “Did you try Simon Wiesenthal?”

This continued for some time. One week later, I returned the armband to its place on the shelf above the books in the living room, where, over the years, many a friend and neighbor has pretended not to see it.

Two years ago, after discovering we were pregnant, my wife and I decided to add a bedroom onto our house. We rented a small cabin down the road, and spent the last month of her pregnancy packing everything we owned into cardboard boxes.

“Only take what we’re going to need,” said my wife. “I don’t feel like moving our whole house down the road.”

“Are we going to need this?” I asked my wife, holding up the armband.

“Are we going to need it?” she asked.

I shrugged, wrapped it in newspaper, and buried it at the bottom of a large box that I carried outside and loaded into the shed. The mason and his crew were already at work on the new foundation, and, as I walked back to the house, I noticed two of the workers leaning on their shovels and watching me. The tall one nudged the shorter one, and called to me.

“Mind if I ask you a question?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer,” I said.

He nudged his friend again, who smiled.

“Sure would be nice to be a writer,” he continued.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Sure would be nice to have two houses,” he said to his friend.

“I don’t have two houses,” I said. “Right now I don’t even have one.”

“Yup,” he nodded. “Sure would be nice to be a writer.”

Anti-Semite, I thought.

The Castle on my Nightstand remains untouched. I want to read this book, if only in the way that I want to read all two-inch thick books that sit on my side table and taunt me: You can’t read me! What’s the matter, ADD? Go read a graphic novel, you puss. Then it does the chicken impression and I grab it, my determination renewed.

“Chapter 2: The room that Himmler used to…”


Saturday, January 20:

It’s just not going to happen. I can’t read this book. I can’t even look at it. I’m over-Holocausted. I’m genocidally exhausted. I wonder if I am the only one, and at first when I think “one,” I am thinking of Jews; a moment later, I am wondering if non-Jews feel this way, if we, in an effort to make sure that nobody ever forgets, have made everyone tired of remembering. What do the words mean anymore? Lenny Bruce imagined a world where the common use of the word “nigger” would remove its power, and it certainly seems that has been the case with the words “Hitler” and “Holocaust.” A Google search for the phrase “worse than Hitler” returns 70,000 hits. Bush is Hitler, Farrakhan is Hitler, Chavez is Hitler. The increasingly popular term “Palestinian Holocaust” doesn’t tell me much about what is going on in Gaza, but it tells me a lot about what is going in the rest of the world, at least about the attitude to that word, to that event.

Six months after I gave a slack-jawed mason the dream of becoming a writer, construction on our house was finished, and my wife and I moved back into our house. We unpacked our books and put them on the shelves. We unpacked our photos and hung them on the walls. I unpacked the armband, wiped the frame clean, looked at it for a moment, and carried it downstairs, where I buried it at the back of our mudroom closet—above the coats and behind the umbrellas—and closed the door.

Monday, January 22:

Emailed this morning. Wondered if an essay about not reading the book would be okay. No answer.

Bought some new shoes. Felt happy. Got haircut. Felt refreshed. Had dinner with my wife and son. Felt at peace. Got into bed, decided to give Castle one last chance.

“Chapter 3: I am ready to speak of the obsession that revolved around Adolf Hitler…”