NARCISSUS LEAVES THE POOL by Joseph Epstein

NARCISSUS LEAVES THE POOL

Familiar Essays

KIRKUS REVIEW

The latest collection of quasi-autobiographical “familiar essays” by Epstein (Pertinent Players: Essays on the Literary Life, 1993, etc.) offers the pleasures of smart faculty-party conversation. The titular opening essay adroitly addresses the 60ish author’s physical appearance in candid detail. It acknowledges the egocentricity of Epstein’s “familiar” variation on the personal essay, but the self-regarding subject is one he knows well and can make amusing. While Epstein’s topics include the social traps of accents and pronunciation (“So to Speak”), aging past 60 (“Will You Still Feed Me?”), the limits of mere talent (“What’s In It for the Talent?”), and “Anglophilia, American Style,” the main subject is himself, Chicago-born former university lecturer and erstwhile editor of the American Scholar. In the case of his experience with bypass surgery, the result is an extraordinarily obvious and prosaic piece of journalism, but that is an exception. Epstein’s lightly worn seriousness, as well as his gift for self deflation and deft way with quotations, distinguish him from the Andy Rooney—Charles Osgood school of commentating when he tackles such finical matters as snoozing (“The Art of the Nap”), the over-knowledgeable classes (“An Extremely Well-Informed S.O.B.”), and pet peeves (his include dumbed-down footnotes, “fun” as an adjective, and the cult of American celebrity exemplified by “the Swiss Family Kennedys”). He can be something of an old fogey, as when he complains in “A Nice Little Knack for Name-Dropping” that there aren—t any good ones to drop today, or bemoans the decline of popular music in the mildly elegiac “I Like a Gershwin Tune.” Closure comes with a remembrance of University of Chicago sociologist Edward Shils (“My Friend Edward”), who seems to represent an ideal Epstein aspires to, from his transatlantic accent and acerbic sense of humor to his thorough erudition, integrity, and disdain for received ideas and academic cant. Vintage Epstein, for those who don—t mind a faint bouquet of self-absorption.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-94403-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000




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