Revisiting Norman Maclean


The Daily Beast recently dredged the archive of zeitgeist-engaged writings as a feature for its recurring column “The Stacks.” What they turned up was novelist Pete Dexter’s wickedly astute profile of Norman Maclean—his first publication for a national magazine when it ran in the June 1981 issue of Esquire—and a piece of writing that is equal parts discomfiting and elegiac, not unlike the work of one Norman Maclean.*

*Caveat: I realize it is part of my job to endorse Norman Maclean, but this is wholly sincere. Maclean’s fascination with toughness was couched under two veils of redemption: his prose is pained in its evocation of loss and its struggle to both narrate and literate the tragic confines of human behavior; and what comes through a work such as Young Men and Fire (which is a World Book Night selection this April 23rd), is the bored patience and cautiously learned excavation of a natural teacher, of someone who cares to rescind the relationship between art and life, and then recast it in a more vigilant if forgiving light. That book is spectacular.

Anyhow, Dexter’s profile is weird and narratively disjointed—it reads like a Barry Hannah short story without the lustful reproach and booze, which I think Maclean would probably appreciate. It’s not a coincidence that Dexter went on to renown as a fiction writer. It’s very much worth reading.

Elsewhere, we recently saw a testament to Maclean’s stature as a teacher: Justice John Paul Stevens did a Q & A with the New York Times and proclaimed Maclean—once a professor who taught a course in poetry at the University of Chicago, in a town he would love all his life—”the teacher to whom [he] is the most indebted.”

To read more about the work of Norman Maclean, click here.