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THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 1993 by Joseph Epstein


by Joseph Epstein

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-63649-3
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 ``The style of the essayist is that of an extremely intelligent, highly commonsensical person talking, without stammer and with impressive coherence, to him- or herself and to anyone else who cares to eavesdrop,'' writes essayist Epstein in his introduction to this satisfying eighth volume of the annual series. Along with series editor Robert Atwan, Epstein presents a range of voices and styles--from Joseph Brodsky writing in The New Republic to Cynthia Ozick in The New Yorker and Lewis Thomas in Audubon. In ``Collector's Item,'' Joseph Brodsky tells us that in August 1991 he saw an issue of the London Review of Books festooned with a blown-up Soviet postage stamp featuring ``Soviet Secret Agent Kim Philby (1912-1988).'' The shock of seeing a traitor so casually celebrated nearly made Brodsky sick. In the end, however, he concedes that ``what's revolting about his stamp is its proprietary sentiment; it's as though the earth that swallowed the poor sod licks its lips with profound satisfaction and says, he is mine.'' In contrast to the dense, elliptical style of Brodsky, James Salter writes a limpid memoir about West Point, ``You Must.'' But like Brodsky, who categorizes spies as a kind of lower life form, Salter raises questions about the qualities that distinguish some people--encountered at West Point or on a Wyoming road--whom he considers unusually highly evolved. Meanwhile, in her hilarious if scathing taking to task of the Frugal Gourmet (``P.C. on the Grill''), Barbara Gruzzuti Harrison shows that quaintly correct sentiments can't replace real humanity, and in a poignant personal memoir of doomed writer Alfred Chester (``Alfred Chester's Wig''), Cynthia Ozick explores the impact that early heartbreak can have on a life. A solid collection of 22 essays that, for the most part, draw us into the quietly entertaining pleasure of contemplating what makes humans tick.