Puzo, Mario: Fools Die
(researched by Richard Greifner)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Mario Puzo. Fools Die. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978 Copyright 1978 by Mario Puzo Parallel First Editions: (England) London: Heinemann, 1978 (Canada) Toronto: Longman Canada Limited, 1978

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The first American edition was originally published in trade cloth binding.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

292 leaves, pp. [10] 9-12 [2] 15-41 [1] 43-71 [1] 73-83 [1] 85-89 [1] 91-102 [2] 105-183 [3] 187-191 [1] 193-217 [1] 219 [1] 221-249 [1] 251-267 [1] 269-306 [2] 309-331 [1] 333-345 [1] 347-365 [1] 367-371 [1] 373-391 [3] 395-415 [1] 417-431 [1] 433-441 [1] 443-451 [1] 453-461 [1] 463-465 [1] 467-479 [3] 483-515 [1] 517-539 [1] 541-552 [2] 555-557 [1] 559-569 [1] 571-572 [2]

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The book is neither edited nor introduced.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

The book features no illustrations.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The crisp, well-spaced text accelerates the pace of the action, and makes the book a quick read. The cozy top margin eliminates distraction and keeps the attention of the reader focused upon the story. The readability is excellent throughout the book--the generously-sized type is clear and unsmudged, line spacing is adequate, and cracking and fading are practically nonexistent. Chapter breaks occur frequently, with page breaks usually separating chapters. The first word of each chapter is in upper case, bold font. Measurement of Page: 9" high by 6" wide Measurement of Text (typically): 6.75" high by 4.5" wide Measurement of Margins: Side margin: 1" Center margin: 0.5" Bottom margin: 1.25" Top margin: 1" 90R

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper is in good condition, rarely torn or folded. Though the pages are thin and light, they remain crisp, and the corners are remarkably firm, considering the book's age. Occasionally, fold marks appear in the upper corner of a page, indicating that the page had once served as a bookmark. Aside from a small scribble on page 11, a centimeter-long line on page 32, and three underlined lines on page 203, the book is unscathed by human hands. This is not to suggest, however, that the book is in pristine condition. Light brown stains (possibly coffee) taint the lower outside corner of each page from 349 to 418. Small, thick darker brown smudges mar pages occasionally, most notably on pages 346 through 349. Fortunately, none of these imperfections affect the appearance of the text or hinder readability.

11 Description of binding(s)

This Alderman Library version of the book was rebound in 1992, and so, is in excellent condition. Unfortunately, this edition now features a dark green, rib grain cloth cover, and there is no longer a dust jacket. The original version of Fools Die featured a white paper dust jacket. A picture of the 1996 Signet reissue version of Fools Die can be seen in the supplementary materials section.

12 Transcription of title page

verso: FOOLS DIE|a novel by|MARIO PUZO|G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS|New York recto: Third Impression|Copyright 1978 by Mario Puzo|All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, must not|be reproduced in any form without permission.|Published simulataneously in Canada by|Longman Canada Limited, Toronto|SBN: 399-12244-3|Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data|Puzo, Mario, 1920-|Fools die.|I. Title|PZ4.P994Fn 1978 [PS3566.U9] 813'.5'4 78-9608|PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Puzo's manuscript collection is held at Boston University, Boston, MA. Source: Gale Literary Databases: Contemporary Authors http://www.galenet.com

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

In 1979, a year after the first edition was published, G.P. Putnam's Sons released a second edition of the book, entitled Fools Die: A Novel. This version was an uncorrected proof for limited distribution.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

There were three impressions made of the first edition. The first printing produced 150,000 copies. Two subsequent printings made prior to the publication date together totaled 100,000 additional copies.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Simultaneous Publications: Heinemann, London, England (1978) Longman Canada Limited, Toronto, Canada (1978) Pursuant Publications: Mandarin (1992) New American Library, New York, New York (1979)(paperback edition) Pan Books, London, England (1980)(paperback edition) Signet, New York, New York (1979)(paperback edition) Signet, New York, New York (1996)(reissue edition)

6 Last date in print?

The latest print of Fools Die was a 1996 reissue version from Signet.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

An estimated 2.75 million paperback copies of Fools Die were sold between 1978 and 1979. Source: Dictionary of American Literary Biography Volume 6: American Novelists Since World War II Second Series

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

Fools Die debuted as the fifth highest selling hardcover fiction novel for the week ending September 18, 1978. The following week, Fools Die moved up to the second spot on the chart, but was never able to acheive number one bestseller status. For the next six months, the novel was a regular fixture in the top five best selling hardcover fiction novels, until it fell to number 14 for the week ending March 12, 1979. After that, Fools Die dropped off the charts permanantly. Source: Publisher's Weekly 9/18/78 Volume 214, Number 12 through Publisher's Weekly 3/19/79

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

An advertisement for the novel appears in the September 18, 1978 edition of Publisher's Weekly, on pages 52-3. The advertisement is not solely for Fools Die, but features all the new releases from New American Library. The first page of the ad can be viewed in this assignment. The second page is located in supplementary materials.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

Fools Die received an inordinate amount of press attention around the time of its publication, due to the (at that time) largest publishing deal ever tendered by New American Library. For more information on this deal, see the biography section.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Fools Die was adapted to analog audio format in 1999. Books on Tape, Inc Newport Beach, California 13 sound cassettes 19 hours, 30 minutes

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

(Chinese) Yu Ren Zhi Si Hao Shi Nian, Tai-bei (1982) (Czech) Blazni Umiragi Praha: Ceskoslovensky Spisovatel (1989) (German) Narren Sterben: Roman Verlag Fritz Molden, Wien, Germany (1 auf edition)(1978) Deutschen Bucherbundes, Stuttgart, Germany (1978) C. Bertelsmann Verlag, Munchen, Germany (1982) (Hebrew) Shotim Metim Shoken, Tel Aviv, Israel (1979) (Korean) Pabodul Chukta Munye Ch'ulp'ansa, Seoul, Korea (1978) (Polish) Smierc Frajerom Wydawn Dolnoslaskie, Wroclaw, Poland (1994) (Portuguese) Os Tolos Morrem Antes Record, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1978) (Russian) Duraki Umiraiut Kron-Press, Moskva, Russia (1995) (Serbo-Croatian) Budale Umiru Otokar Kersovani, Rijeka (1980) (Spanish) Los Tontos Mueren Grijalbo, Mexico, D.F. (1987)

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Fools Die was not serialized.

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

Fools Die has no prequels or sequels.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

The authenticity with which Mario Puzo (October 15, 1920 - July 2, 1999) described the lifestyle of Italian-American immigrants and portrayed the gritty tenement society lurking within every American metropolis can be directly attributed to the novelist's upbringing. Born as one of seven children to a pair of illiterate Italian immigrants in the district of New York City known as "Hell's Kitchen," Puzo was immersed in a setting suitable for any of his novels from day one. Puzo's father, a trackman/laborer for the New York Central Railway, deserted the family when Puzo was 12, forcing the young author and each of his four brothers to work for the railway at various points over the years. Through his work as a brakeman, trackman, and messenger boy, Puzo became well-acquainted with the illicit activity that he would later describe in his works. Crime was viewed as an acceptable alternative to laboring on the railways, but while Puzo "had every desire to go wrong," the author "never had a chance. The Italian family structure was too formidable."*1 The themes of glorified criminals and a strong family structure Puzo encountered as a child would later be prevalent in his best-known novel, The Godfather (1969). In 1955, Puzo published his first novel, The Dark Arena, an atypical work in the sense that most of the action transpired in Germany, where Puzo was stationed as a corporal in the Air Force during the Second World War. Puzo crafted his second novel from more familiar subject material; The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965) featured an Italian peasant protagonist bride who lived in a Hell's Kitchen tenement. Despite glowing reviews and much critical acclaim, Puzo's first two books failed to provide the author with financial security. $20,000 in debt, Puzo began writing again, this time with the deliberate intention of producing a best-seller. For his next book, Puzo decided to concentrate upon organized crime, a central aspect of the Pilgrim storyline. After his idea for Godfather was rejected by his former publisher, Puzo readily accepted a $5,000 cash advance from G.P. Putnam's Sons and began researching the Italian Mafia. Puzo was pleasantly surprised by his 50% share of the book's paperback rights, which sold for a record $410,000, as well as the enormous success the movie version (1972) of the novel enjoyed. Puzo always denied personal Mafia ties, claiming instead that the authenticity of the novel stemmed from library research and a close reading of Senate investigations; in fact, at the novel's release date, Puzo had never even been to Sicily. However, Puzo's work had a definite effect upon the Mafia and the general public, as many readers, Mafioso included, took a shining to Puzo's anti-hero, Don Corleone. Puzo was "awfully surprised when people loved the Godfather so much," and indignant at groups that claimed the criminal activity in Godfather was glorified. "I showed [the Godfather] as a murderer, a thief, a villain, a man who threw babies in the oven," Puzo said. "You're not supposed to like people who throw babies in ovens."*2 On the heels of his 67-week number one bestseller, Puzo immersed himself in the glamorous world of Hollywood, where he quickly established himself as a top screenwriter. In addition to producing material for two more Godfather pictures (1974, 1990), Puzo also penned the screenplay for Earthquake (1974), the first two Superman movies (1978, 1980), The Cotton Club (1984), The Sicilian (1987), and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992). The author returned to familiar territory with his next novel, Inside Las Vegas (1977), an illustrated nonfiction book that detailed gambling, one of Puzo's four main vices (along with reading, booze, and women). In his next work, 1978's Fools Die, Puzo again focused upon the subject of gambling, this time in fictional form. Although the author was an admitted life-long gambler, he did not feel that "gambling [was] worth a book, or even worth a short story,"*3 using the wagering in Die as a tool to show character. New American Library paid Puzo a then-record $2.2 million in exchange for paperback publishing rights to Fools Die, surpassing the $1.9 million that Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds had garnered the previous year. For an additional $350,000, the publishing house also secured the rights to print future editions of The Godfather. Die was perhaps Puzo's most autobiographical work, for it featured the author Merlyn as a protagonist who experienced life in New York, Las Vegas, and Hollywood, addressed the audience in the "I" person, and shared many of Puzo's life experiences and viewpoints. Puzo denied any such resemblance, and claimed that Die was "not autobiographical in the sense that the whole concept of character [was] different from myself." Puzo did concede, however, that readers "could say that every book I've written, including The Godfather, is semiautobiographical."*4 Fools Die could not nearly parallel the success of The Godfather, however. The novel was poorly received by critics and was generally viewed as a disappointing failure. After enjoying success with another Mafia-based tale, The Sicilian (1984), The Fourth K (1992), and the television movie success, 1996's The Last Don, Puzo passed away of heart failure on July 2, 1999 at his home in Bay Shore, New York. Before dying, Puzo completed work on his final novel, Omerta, scheduled to be released posthumously in July, 2000. *1 Dictionary of Literary Biography, P.269 *2 Publishers Weekly Volume 213, Number 24, P.10 *3 Publishers Weekly Volume 213, Number 24, P.10 *4 Publishers Weekly Volume 213, Number 24, P.10 Sources: "All-Movie Guide" Website http://www.allmovie.com Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists Since World War II Edited by James E. Kibler, Jr. A Brucoli Clark Book Gale Research Company, Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan (1980) PP. 268-272 Publishers Weekly Volume 213, Number 24, June 12, 1978 PP.10-12 The Irish Times "The Godfather Put Him in the Picture" Obituaries P.18 July 10, 1999 "The Official Mario Puzo Library" Website http://www.jgeoff.com/puzo

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Mario Puzo often belittled his career-defining work, The Godfather (1969), claiming that he "wrote below [his] gifts in that book," and the best-selling novel was written only because Puzo was desperate for money. Yet, while critics and readers alike heaped acclaim upon an effort far below Puzo's lofty standards, the author's highly-anticipated, premeditated 1978 gambling novel, Fools Die was universally panned. Dismissed as "a publishing event rather than a novel," (Roger Sale, "Portrait of the Artist," New York Review of Books, Vol. XXV, No. 16, October 26, 1978, pp.32-3) Fools Die was doomed from its conception. Expectations were unreasonably high for the book, abetted in part by Puzo's boasts and the runaway success of The Godfather, but mostly by the then-record $2.2 million in paperback rights Puzo received from New American Library (along with future reprinting rights for The Godfather). Puzo further secured Fools Die's downfall by using the novel to attack literary critics who had dismissed him as solely an author of popular, crowd-pleasing books; Fools Die was Puzo's jab at "the high-handed literary big shots who . . . denied him the stature of an artist," a manifestation of "the frustration boiling away in the heart of the millionaire schlockmeister who yearns for the sweet cultural delights of serious cultural attention." (Pearl K. Bell, "Good-Bad and Bad-Bad," Commentary, Vol. 66, No. 6, December, 1978, pp.70-3) Unfortunately for Puzo, there was much more substance to the critics' complaints than anger over the author's vindictive text. Some reviews were kind enough to utilize euphemisms, but the bottom line was always the same; Fools Die was perceived as "a big bad book; . . . boring; . . . in large part illiterate; . . . as if it were the product of an empty brain, and empty heart, and an empty soul." (Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, The New Republic, Vol. 179, November 18, 1978, p.34) Critics ubiquitously voiced their disgust with Puzo's cluttered story of loose ends, labeling the novel "a hodgepodge . . . a lump . . . an unfinished, undisciplined, disorganized . . . clarion call for the return of the editor, any editor . . ." (Joe McGinniss, "Nothing in the Hole," The Nation, November 11, 1978) A common criticism was Puzo's tendency to desert storylines, killing off integral characters, while inexplicably lingering fastidiously over tedious details of the gambling style. "Five hundred seventy-two pages of futility (not tragedy) are deadening, especially when the dramatis personae are sadly lacking in drama," wrote Harrison. "Potentially intriguing characters and situations pop up all over the vast bleak landscape of Fools Die only-as soon as they whet our interest-to be put out of play. Puzo literally has to kill off his characters because he doesn't know what to do with them; and stories peter out, go nowhere." Although Puzo denied that Fools Die was an autobiographical work, many reviewers identified the author with the novel's protagonist Merlyn, and many chose to blast Puzo for his "ham-handed, sophomoric caricature of Norman Mailer" as Osano, the womanizing, famous American author. (McGinniss) The great majority of reviewers were mercilessly harsh upon Puzo and his Las Vegas gambling tale, "consisting of one very . . . short story buried among 500 pages of debris" (McGinniss) that would have been "more accurately titled Fools Buy." (Bell) **************************** "Structurally, Fools Die is a mess. Accomplished storyteller that he is, Puzo should have known better than to split his narration; he should not have allowed his story to be so often interrupted by flashback and tangentially related tales; he should not have tried to cover so much ground; he should have repressed the temptation to become on occasion serious, even portentous; he should, in fact, have jettisoned whole sections of this book, particularly the opening four pages. The intensity, the narrative thrust, the seductive mythic quality of The Godfather are all lacking here." (Peter S. Prescott, "Dirty Deals," Newsweek, September 18, 1978, p.81) "As I stumbled my way through Fools Die I kept asking myself who could possibly enjoy reading such gloomy trash. Of course it will be a hit, because of The Godfather . . . . Does Puzo himself think Fools Die is a good novel?" (Sale) "Like some brands of radial tire, this book should be recalled. What buyers of Fools Die will discover before they've yawned through ten pages is the dismaying fact that it is no Godfather-not even a good-bad book but a slovenly dud. There is no plot, no action beyond an inexplicable suicide early on . . . what it symbolizes beyond Puzo's inability to figure out what it symbolizes remains an untantalizing mystery." (Bell) "Fools Die is not as good a book . . . as Norman Mailer would have written. Considering Puzo by comparing him with Mailer would be absurd except that Puzo makes the comparison himself. He doesn't just invite it-he demands it." (Joy Williams, "Literary Long Shot," Esquire, Vol. 90, October 10, 1978, pp.101-2) "Only someone addicted to gambling could have read this rambling, painfully autobiographical Las Vegas melodrama without embarrassment." (John Sutherland, "The Godfather," Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp.38-41) Sources: Book Review Digest 1978 Edited by Martha T. Mooney 1979 The H. W. Wilson Company, p.1067 Contemporary Literary Criticism Volume 36 Edited by Daniel G. Marowski 1986 Gale Research Company Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan pp.359-62 Contemporary Literary Criticism Volume 107 Edited by Deborah A. Schmitt 1998 Gale Research Company Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan p.193, 213 Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature Volume 38 March 1978-February 1979 Edited by Zada Limerick 1979 The H. W. Wilson Company People Magazine Vol. 10 July 3, 1978 p.64 Time Magazine Vol. 112 August 28, 1978, pp.68-9 Pearl K. Bell, "Good-Bad and Bad-Bad" Commentary, Vol. 66, No. 6 December, 1978, pp.70-3 John Druska, "Poor Boy Makes Bad," Commonweal, Vol. CVI, No. 3 February 16, 1979, pp.93-4 Barbara Grizzuti Harrison The New Republic, Vol. 179 November 18, 1978, p.34 Joe McGinniss, "Nothing in the Hole" The Nation November 11, 1978 Peter S. Prescott, "Dirty Deals" Newsweek September 18, 1978, p.81 Roger Sale, "Portrait of the Artist" New York Review of Books, Vol. XXV, No. 16 October 26, 1978, pp.32-3 John Sutherland, "The Godfather" Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp.38-41 Joy Williams, "Literary Long Shot" Esquire, Vol. 90 October 10, 1978, pp.101-2

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

After the initial wave of poor reviews, Fools Die slipped from the consciousness of literary critics. In reviews of Puzo's future novels, critics would only occasionally refer to Fools Die, always in the form of a concise, snide comment on the book's failure. "I did try to read {Puzo's} next novel, Fools Die . . ., but gave up when it became apparent that nothing of any interest whatsoever was going to happen." Eliot Fremont-Smith "What Becomes a Legend Most" The Village Voice, Vol. XXIX, No. 47 November 20, p.45 "The autobiographical novel that followed The Godfather, Fools Die, didn't work." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt "The Sicilian" The New York Times November 22, 1984, p.C19 Fools Die "failed to match The Godfather's sales or influence." Jeff Zaleski "Mario Puzo: The Don of Bestsellers Returns" Publisher's Weekly July 29, 1996, pp.64-5

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

On its own merits, Fools Die never would have been a best-seller. Critics feasted upon the debilitating flaws in Mario Puzo's awkward, indecisive 1978 Las Vegas/New York/Hollywood story, exposing numerous weaknesses throughout the 572 pages. Yet, despite the overwhelmingly negative response from the literary world's most discerning minds, Fools Die was a regular fixture among the top five best-selling hardcover fiction novels for a six-month period, selling an estimated 2.75 million copies between 1978 and 1979. The ample reasons critics provided to make Fools Die a failure were readily countered by the only factor necessary to make the book a bestseller: the phenomenon Puzo had unleashed upon the world nearly a decade before, The Godfather (1969). However, while The Godfather was the chief factor behind the enviable sales figures that Fools Die achieved, it was because of the inevitable comparison between Puzo's 1978 gambling novel and his career-defining Mafia epic that Fools Die was received so poorly by critics and ultimately came to be regarded as a failure.

Puzo was forced to write The Godfather out of dire need; in debt $20,000 to friends and relatives, he abandoned the artistic idealism with which he had written his first two novels for a $5,000 cash advance and a simpler style more pleasing to the mainstream reader. The tremendous popularity of the resulting novel exceeded not only Puzo's expectations, but even his wildest dreams. By the late 1970s, the name Mario Puzo was synonymous with the triumphs that his creation had enjoyed; after selling over 12 million copies of the novel and writing the screenplays for two hugely successful Godfather motion pictures, Puzo could name his price at any publishing house in the world. On the sheer strength of his previous literary accomplishment, Puzo was able to guarantee that Fools Die would enjoy a spot on the best-seller list. However, even The Godfather could not guarantee critical acclaim. While an exorbitant publishing deal fed a media frenzy eager for a second coming of The Godfather, it was those same excessively lofty expectations that lay the foundation for a merciless reception.

In 1978, New American Library bid a then-record $2.2 million for the paperback rights to Fools Die, easily surpassing the $1.9 million Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds had garnered from Harper & Rowe the previous year. While this deal seemed excessive for one novel, in actuality, New American Library was buying two of Puzo's works. Such a lucrative offer can only be attributed to the fact that the publishing company was banking upon the past success of Puzo's proven page-turner to sell his latest novel; New American Library was anticipating either a work of the same stature as The Godfather, or, in the likely event that Fools Die failed to live up to its predecessor's popularity, that future sales of Puzo's best-known novel would entice readers to purchase his latest effort as well. In fact, as part of the deal, New American Library paid $350,000 in exchange for future reprinting rights to The Godfather. Puzo's record-breaking publishing deal officially linked the fate of Fools Die with that of his Mafia novel. It was the incredible past and projected future sales figures of The Godfather that secured such a lucrative publishing agreement for Fools Die, and the magnitude of this deal was the catalyst that propelled Fools Die into the spotlight and onto the bestseller list.

Thanks to the publicity resulting from such a gaudy publishing deal, New American Library would eventually make a great profit from signing Mario Puzo. The immediate dividends of the deal were fully realized by G.P. Putnam's Sons, the distributor of the hardcover version of Fools Die. Extensive media scrutiny of the book commenced in early July, a full two months before the novel's release date, and continued steadily over the course of the next five months. Dozens of major newspapers, magazines, and literary journals devoted coverage to at least one aspect of the novel, whether it was the publishing deal, Puzo, or the novel itself. Several magazines and journals even featured Puzo on their covers. In response to the incredible media attention, G.P. Putnam's Sons sent Fools Die back to the press twice, raising the total number of copies available at the release date to a formidable 250,000.

This constant media attention certainly contributed to the novel's steady sales rate. Continuous press coverage kept Fools Die in the forefront of America's consciousness, and enabled the novel to retain its top-five hardcover fiction bestseller status for months. However, not all of this coverage was supportive of Puzo's latest effort. Readers expecting another Godfather-caliber story were sorely disappointed with Fools Die's disjointed, frustrating storylines and distant, poorly developed characters. The eager anticipation for the novel that characterized early accounts of the publishing deal quickly turned into critical disdain and pointed personal attacks upon Puzo following the novel's release.

Without exception, critics viewed Fools Die as a great disappointment, paling in comparison to the book that had been chiefly responsible for generating such an incredible amount of publicity. In contemporary reviews, neither Fools Die nor The Godfather were regarded as classics or works of art in any sense of the terms, but whereas critics heaped praise upon Puzo's earlier effort, they could find only fault with Fools Die. Where Puzo was lauded in 1969 as "an extremely talented storyteller," and praised for being able to keep The Godfather moving "at breakneck speed without ever losing its balance," he was chided nine years later for splitting "his narration; [and allowing] his story to be so often interrupted by flashback and tangentially related tales." Critics universally rebuked Puzo for Fools Die's lethargic pace, seemingly unrelated, drawn-out subplots, poor character development, and lack of direction, labeling the book as "a hodgepodge . . . a lump . . . an unfinished, undisciplined, disorganized . . . clarion call for the return of the editor, any editor."

A common complaint among reviewers was the lack of a connection between the reader and Fools Die's characters, especially noticeable considering the strength of the relationship between the reader and The Godfather's Mafioso protagonist, Don Corleone. Many critics believed that the chasm between reader and character was a result of Puzo's conscious efforts to craft Fools Die into an autobiographical tale, with Puzo narrating as the cool-headed writer John Merlyn. Although Puzo always denied any such connection, he did concede that readers "could say that every book I've written, including The Godfather, is semiautobiographical."

While Fools Die may not have been intended as an autobiographical story, Merlyn was clearly modeled after Puzo, just as Merlyn's mentor, the brilliant womanizer novelist Osano was a "ham-handed, sophomoric caricature of Norman Mailer," the prominent American recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, the same year The Godfather was published. The similarities between Merlyn and Puzo were too numerous to fully identify and too obvious to ignore. Merlyn refused to alter a grim ending to one of his novels, despite his publisher's fears that readers wouldn't be able to identify with a kidnapper protagonist. Early in his career, Puzo once forfeited a publishing deal because he refused to alter a book's ending, and after the success of The Godfather, admitted that he was "awfully surprised when people loved [Don Corleone] so much," considering the heinous crimes the Godfather committed. Like Merlyn, Puzo went into debt rather than compromise his artistic integrity by writing a crowd-pleasing novel. Both authors firmly believed that writing was a magical, inspired art form that could not be rushed, although Puzo allowed Merlyn to retain his preferred style when creating his groundbreaking novel, while Puzo always claimed that he "wrote below [his] gifts" when penning The Godfather.

Puzo may have overstepped his bounds by using Merlyn's poignant observations as a vehicle for his personal viewpoints. Throughout the course of the novel, Merlyn offered Puzo's (negative) opinion of the publishing and movie industries, and made his creator's disdain for critics and sellout, profit-seeking authors clear. The fact that Merlyn fancied himself a better writer than the great Osano may even have reflected Puzo's vain personal comparison between himself and Mailer. Critics viewed Merlyn's pretentious commentaries as nothing more than a juvenile attempt by Puzo to disassociate himself from the common perception of a bestseller author, and retaliated in their reviews, dismissing Fools Die as a manifestation of Puzo's jealousy of "the high-handed literary big shots who . . . denied him the stature of an artist." In his mind, Puzo still viewed himself as the consummate artist who once suffered for his convictions, and was mortified that he would forever be categorized as a "millionaire schlockmeister" because The Godfather had been crafted with the conscious desire to appeal to a mass audience. And so, once again The Godfather bore great influence upon the success of Fools Die; in his attempt to distance himself from the style that brought him fame, reviewers felt that Puzo tainted Merlyn's character, and invited an unfavorable critical reception.

Much of the criticism heaped upon Fools Die was justified, but several reviewers were excessively malicious towards the book and overly critical of Puzo as well. Members of the writing community were appalled by (and somewhat envious of) the magnitude of the deal for the paperback publishing rights to Fools Die and the tidal wave of publicity it unleashed, and allowed this disgust to warp their objectivity and shape their columns into personal vendettas against Puzo. As scathing review after scathing review appeared in influential publications, each more caustic than the last, it became apparent that more was being critiqued than an unpopular nonfiction work. Critics dismissed Fools Die as "a publishing event rather than a novel," and challenged Puzo's widely-accepted status as a master storyteller, calling the book "the product of an empty brain, and empty heart, and an empty soul." Such criticism trampled the boundary of literary analysis and more closely resembled libel, yet many reviews featured similar assaults upon Puzo's stature. Frequently, it seemed as if the writer had read Fools Die with the sole intention of finding fault, predisposed to detest the book so that he might reinforce the opinions of his peers.

Even by bestseller standards, Fools Die was no masterpiece, but from its steady sales pattern, it was apparent that the book possessed redeeming qualities overlooked by the literary aristocracy. Despite the steady flow of negative press, the book was a consistently high-ranking bestseller for the better part of six months. Doubtlessly much of the interest in Fools Die could be attributed to the desire to sample the latest work by the author of The Godfather, even if the audience was anticipating a mediocre read. And although nearly all of the press that Fools Die received was designed to detract potential book purchasers, the steady stream of media coverage spawned public awareness that no advertising campaign could match. However, it is likely that some readers required more incentive to purchase the novel.

A fraction of Fools Die's success can be attributed to the subject nature of the book. A novel about a high-stakes subject like gambling set in flashy locations such as Las Vegas, Hollywood, and New York City doubtlessly held great appeal for a nation subdued by a tiresome decade of poor economic performance, scandals, and war. The great popularity of escapist literature was evident from the novels accompanying Fools Die atop the bestseller charts. Sydney Sheldon's Bloodlines was a sex-obsessed story featuring "beautiful, thin, tan, rich, witty and aggressive" characters, and Judith Krantz's Scruples was a tale of "sex, wealth, beauty and power," featuring a heroine who rose from Boston poverty to become wealthy and successful as a trendy Beverly Hills boutique owner married to a movie producer. For a reader content only to browse the back of the dust jacket before making a purchase, Fools Die must have seemed every bit the glamorous, escapist novel that the pre-release press had built it up to be, promising an insider's view of Las Vegas where fortunes and lives could change in the blink of an eye. One aspect of Fools Die that reviewers grudgingly praised was "Puzo's description of Las Vegas," and the way in which "its Strip, showgirls, characters, and the variety of ways one can lose money swiftly and painlessly, [was] carried off with brio." While most of Fools Die's success resulted from the great anticipation surrounding the latest effort from the author of The Godfather, certainly a small percentage of sales resulted from those who sought refuge from the decade-long malaise.

As much as it pained him to admit, Puzo was well aware that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to top the success he realized with The Godfather. And although the severity of critics' reviews came as a shock, Puzo was also cognizant that the inevitable comparisons between his latest effort and the book that had endeared itself to readers everywhere would not be favorable. In Fools Die, Osano explained this unfortunate reality for every author to Puzo's alter ego Merlyn, warning the neophyte author simply, "you get one big book in your lifetime." Aware that The Godfather's influence would greatly boost Fools Die's sales at the expense of the novel's critical reception, Puzo strove not to please his audience, as he had done with The Godfather, but rather, wrote Fools Die for his own personal satisfaction, glorifying his life story and his existence as a writer/artist via Merlyn. "I wrote Fools Die for myself," the author confessed. "I wanted to say certain things about gambling, Las Vegas and the country."

As Puzo had anticipated, the past success of The Godfather was the key factor responsible for both Fools Die's solid sales figures and brutal rejection by his literary peers. The value of the Godfather franchise secured the most lucrative publishing deal to date for the paperback rights to Fools Die, a deal that was chiefly responsible for the advance popularity Fools Die enjoyed and the subsequent escalated demand for the novel. Yet, this demand heightened expectations about Fools Die to unattainable levels, and the ensuing reviews unfailingly reflected the bitter disappointment felt by critics and discerning readers alike. Despite such a bitter reception, Fools Die remained on the bestseller charts for six months and enjoyed moderate success, although its sales figures paled in comparison with those of The Godfather. Without the powerful backing force of The Godfather, Fools Die never would have been a bestseller. However, had there not been such an intimidating benchmark against which to measure Fools Die or establish such towering expectations for the infant novel, Puzo would not have been made to endure such brutal, remorseless personal attacks from the very same publications that had once unanimously applauded his storytelling efforts. Because Fools Die relied upon the enormous presence of The Godfather to attain best-seller status, it was only fitting that Puzo's Vegas novel was forced to languish in The Godfather's towering shadow, forever unable to compete with the memory of its popular predecessor.

Supplemental Material

Pearl K. Bell, "Good-Bad and Bad-Bad" Commentary, Vol. 66, No. 6 December, 1978, pp.70-3 John Druska, "Poor Boy Makes Bad," Commonweal, Vol. CVI, No. 3 February 16, 1979, pp.93-4 Philip B. Eppard, editor First Printings of American Authors, Vol. 5 A Brucoli Clark Layman Book Gale Research Company, Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, 1987, p.264 Eliot Fremont-Smith, "What Becomes a Legend Most" The Village Voice, Vol. XXIV, No. 47 November 20, 1984, p.45 Gaskell A New Introduction to Bibliography pp.238, 241, 332 Barbara Grizzuti Harrison The New Republic, Vol. 179 November 18, 1978, p.34 Nora Johnson The New York Times Book Review James E. Kibler, Jr., editor Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists Since World War II Second Series A Brucoli Clark Layman Book Gale Research Company, Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, 1980 Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "The Sicilian" The New York Times November 22, 1984, p.C19 Zada Limerick, editor Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Vol. 38 March 1978-February 1979 The H. W. Wilson Company, 1979 Daniel G. Marowski, editor Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 36 Gale Research Company Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, 1986, pp.359-62 Joe McGinniss, "Nothing in the Hole" The Nation November 11, 1978 Herbert Mitgang New York Review of Books October 26, 1978 Martha T. Mooney, editor Book Review Digest 1978 The H. W. Wilson Company, 1979, p.1067 Peter S. Prescott, "Dirty Deals" Newsweek September 18, 1978, p.81 Roger Sale, "Portrait of the Artist" New York Review of Books, Vol. XXV, No. 16 October 26, 1978, pp.32-3 Deborah A. Schmitt, editor Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 107 Gale Research Company Book Tower, Detroit, Michigan, 1998, p.193, 213 John Sutherland, "The Godfather" Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp.38-41 John William Tebbel A History of Book Publishing in the United States, Vol. IV R.R. Bowker Company 1180 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York, 1981, p.378 Joy Williams, "Literary Long Shot" Esquire, Vol. 90 October 10, 1978, pp.101-2 Jeff Zaleski, "Mario Puzo: The Don of Bestsellers Returns" Publisher's Weekly July 29, 1996 pp.64-5 A Guide to Critical Reviews Part I: American Drama 1909-1982, Third Edition Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, New Jersey & London, England, 1984 People Magazine, Vol. 10 July 3, 1978, p.64 Publishers Weekly, Vol. 213, No. 24 June 12, 1978, pp.10-2 The Irish Times "The Godfather Put Him in the Picture" July 10, 1999, Obituaries, p.18 Time Magazine, Vol. 112 August 28, 1978, pp.68-9
"All-Movie Guide" Website http://www.allmovie.com Bibliofind Database http://www.bibliofind.com Books In Print Database Gale Literary Databases: Contemporary Authors http://www.galenet.com Internet Public Library http://www.ipl.org/ref/litcrit/ KC's Norman Mailer Page http://www.iol.ie/~kic/ Lexis-Nexis Database "The Official Mario Puzo Library" Website http://www.jgeoff.com/puzo Virgo Database Worldcat Database

Signet reissue edition 1996

Dust jacket

The second page of the advertisement for Fools Die

The first page of the advertisement for Fools Die

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