Jafsie and John Henry: Essays

David Mamet, Author Free Press $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-684-84120-5
The first of 27 essays in this grab bag of characteristically taut pieces is called ""Looking at Fifty,"" and perhaps no words more aptly foreshadow the pieces to come. For this latest effort by Mamet, largely a collection of previously published work, is one part wistful reminiscence, one part curmudgeonly (and often Luddite) rant and one part seasoned social commentary. Mamet, often taken to task as a playwright and screenwriter for his superficial characters, here flashes impressive depth. In ""L.A. Houses,"" he skewers cultural philisitinism by describing a director who wanted him to write a screenplay of Moby-Dick from the point of view of the whale. Remembrances of a Chicago boyhood (walking aimlessly down a highway), his first car (a devastatingly powerful Karmann Ghia) and a tragic game of poker (in which he unconsciously threw a hand ""to punish myself"") give the book a refreshingly personal feel. And his anti-technology comments, despite smacking of a quaint traditionalism (he's prone to criticizing the pervasiveness of ""information"" by asking ""Where is the romance in it? Where is the discovery?""), are generally thoughtful enough to merit serious consideration. He proposes, for instance, that our adherence to machines stems not merely from a desire to make our lives easier but from a fundamental need to be enslaved by another power. Rounding out the collection are essays about the roots of anti-Semitism and an Anglophilic gem, ""Scotch Malt Whisky Society,"" in which the playwright uses his trademark ear for dialogue to describe the verbal thrust-and-parry of Scotch tasters in Edinburgh. Cleanly written, by turns profoundly personal and just plain profound, Mamet's collection offers the spectacle of a fierce intelligence at work and at play in the world. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
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