THE HINGE OF THE WORLD by Richard N. Goodwin


A Drama
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A plodding stage play that explores, or more precisely fails sufficiently to explore, Galileo’s conflict with the Church. Goodwin was a speech writer for JFK and LBJ, and then a supporter of the ill-starred Robert Kennedy. During the 1970s and ’80s he published successful books about politics and American life, among them Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties (1988) and The American Condition (1974). Now he has tried his hand at what might be called nonfiction drama or even, sad to say, nondramatic drama. For in spite of its supercharged historical material (deftly managed by Bertolt Brecht in his Galileo Galilei) Goodwin’s piece lacks the spark of dramatic electricity that makes a play work. From a writer of Goodwin’s background we might reasonably expect a revealing exploration of the way science, belief, and politics intermingle and shape our lives. Alas, this overly long and muddy farrago will not satisfy most readers. Its characters are too poorly drawn, undermined not least of all by the language with which they must express themselves. Here is Galileo with his newly discovered instrument, the telescope, presented to us as a sort of Peeping Tom: “The moon. Full-bottomed Eve: grafted by God as comfort to the fugitive earth. So ripe tonight. So swollen with sweet invitation. Do you mock the men you madden with unconsummated desire? I wonder. Let me see if I can peek beneath the hem of your borrowed radiance.” Goodwin is not successful in making science sexy, though it seems to be an underlying intention of the book. What one is finally left with is a play that responsibly illustrates certain famous historical events, but it does so without revealing anything new about them or giving them any sense of renewed intensity. Not really a play, not really a novel, and not really too interesting at all.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-17002-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998