cover image Night Thoughts

Night Thoughts

Wallace Shawn. Haymarket, $14.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-60846-812-6

Shawn (Essays), an actor and Obie-winning playwright, reflects on civilization, morality, Beethoven, 11th-century Japanese court poetry, and his hopes for a better world, among other topics. Acerbic yet compassionate, Shawn’s meditations epitomize qualities he admires—curiosity, thoughtfulness, sharp logic, deep emotion—and sees getting short shrift in a United States abandoning “the cultivation of the intellect.” Born to privilege, he admits to being one of the “lucky,” a group encompassing “a very large number of the citizens of the United States and Great Britain and most European countries” who largely owe their prosperity to the “unjust exploitation” of the “unlucky.” And although he, for various reasons, proved “downwardly mobile” (his position in society is lower than his parents’), he knows his “luck has held.” With impeccable logic, he gently, but lethally, skewers the complacency of the lucky while highlighting the plight of the less fortunate, including the Muslims living in the slums of European cities, the maid of a wealthy friend, and a boy at a dance who shoots someone flirting with his girlfriend. And he is quick to confront his own privileged status after a “big storm” when he’s faced with days of no running water or heat—and no one coming to fix things—and feels disoriented, “as if a lifetime’s worth of assumptions were uncontrollably unspooling.” [em](June) [/em]