Pertinent Players: Essays on the Literary Life

Joseph Epstein, Author W. W. Norton & Company $24.95 (414p) ISBN 978-0-393-03519-3
``What is his story?'' asks essayist Epstein ( Plausible Prejudices ) about each person profiled in his third collection of essays, providing revealing looks at writers and thinkers of assorted repute. Many of the pieces explore the circumstances that led some, like Carl Sandburg, to reach a peak of fame in their lifetime and yet fall from it after their death; some honor those, like Italo Svevo, who gained recognition only late in their careers. Other essays reflect on how fated proclivities can shape a career, as with the prolif-ic screenwriter/novelist/playwright/journalist Ben Hecht, whose ability to turn phrases kept him, according to Epstein, from writing in earnest about what really haunted him. Although only a couple of the pieces--a remembrance of Sidney Hook, a meditation on Henry James--generate the emotion and charm of Epstein's familiar essays, each has the courtliness and measured idiosyncrasy that are hallmarks of his writing. The book pleases in its balance of subject choices and in its respect for the individuality of human ways and human lives. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1993
Release date: 08/01/1993
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