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Despite displaying some postmodern tendencies of his own, Mailer outwardly abhorred the movement, denouncing it as “nothing more than bells and whistles for the effeminate masses.” And with that, postmodernism and its “cheap magic tricks” were relegated to the outskirts of the borough, though rumors of cloistered experimentation persisted—it was said that if you passed Jonathan Lethem’s bedroom window at a certain hour you would see an “otherworldly glow.”
Through savvy and brute force (mostly brute force) Mailer maintained and expanded his power as the borough gentrified in the 1980s and 90s. At the advent of the new millennium, Mailer hosted a party for the writers of Brooklyn and, toasting himself, declared “Forty more years!”
Mailer was tough—he would not let you forget it, much less doubt it—but he was not invincible. Three years later, U.S. troops invaded Iraq and writers poured into Brooklyn in greater numbers than ever before and Mailer, now in his eighties, was simply unable to keep up: the iron grip that had held Literary Brooklyn for so long had begun to loosen.
Sensing greater strength in numbers, these new residents quickly coalesced into battle-ready tribes and by the middle part of the decade there were four prominent clans: The Twee-ny Boppers, The Mensheviks, The Deceptively Middle Brow, and The Middle-Aged Dirt Bags (plus Gary Shteyngart, who lived in Manhattan but was basically a Brooklyn writer). For the first time since Mailer had taken power, a number of writers whose talent rivaled his own called Brooklyn their home.
This is not to say Mailer’s power was ever questioned—he was still too tough, too scary—but something had clearly changed. Once Mailer could alter the status quo of Literary Brooklyn with ease. Now, all he could do was maintain it.
Knowing what we know now, however, those years seem positively idyllic. These groups attended each other’s parties, reviewed each other’s books, and only rarely quarreled, lest Mailer butt them with his head or whip them with his belt.
Mailer died in November of 2007 and conflict soon followed, though rumor has it that it didn’t erupt until a fortnight after Mailer’s death, as he was still able to choke dissenters from beyond the grave.