A dark, brilliant novel of astonishing pitch, set in Provincetown, a "spit of shrub and dune" captured here in the rawness and melancholy of the off-season, "Tough Guys Don't Dance" is the story of Tim Madden, an unsuccessful writer addicted to bourbon, cigarettes, and blonde, careless women with money. On the twenty-fourth morning after the decampment of his wife, Patty Lareine, he awakens with a hangover, considerable sexual excitement, and, on his upper arm, a red tattoo bearing a name from the past. Of the night before, he remembers practically nothing. What he soon learns is that the front passenger seat of his Porsche is soaked with blood and that in a secluded corner of his marijuana stash in a nearby woods rests a blonde head, severed at the throat.
Is Madden therefore a murderer? He has no way of knowing. As in many novels of crime, the narrative centers on violence--physical, sexual, and emotional--but these elements move in their orbits through a rich constellation of character as Madden tries to reconstruct the missing hours of a terrible evening. In the course of this in-quiry a bizarre and vividly etched gallery of characters reappears to him as in a dream--ex-prizefighters, sexual junkies, mediums, former cons, a police chief, a world-weary former girl friend, and Mad-den's father, old now but still a Herculean figure, a practitioner of the sternest backroom ethics.
"Tough Guys Don't Dance" represents Mailer at the peak of his powers with a stunningly conceived novel that soon transcends its origins as a mystery to become a relentless search into the recesses and buried virtues of the modern American male. Rarely, as many readers will discern, have the paradoxes ofmachismo and homosexuality been so well explored.