ESSAYS by Wallace Shawn


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Personal and political essays from actor and playwright Shawn (Grasses of a Thousand Colors, 2009, etc.).

The author delivers a curious collection of fraught essays addressing, in the main, the implications of living a privileged, comfortable life in a world largely populated by the desperate, hopeless and exploited. A self-described child of privilege—his father was a venerable editor of the New Yorker—Shawn ponders his culpability in a system designed to keep the elite fat and happy while millions starve, concluding that the enjoyment of those privileges can only be seen as monstrous. Readers hoping for a solution to this inequity should look elsewhere. Shawn is content to lament the dire state of the world from the vantage of his cozy existence in the world of arts and letters, scolding himself, and his audience, for his participation in such a wicked enterprise as contemporary society. Written in a faux-naïve style aiming for a disarming, childish simplicity, Shawn’s short essays become repetitive and ultimately numbing. There are, however, interesting and well-observed bits on such far-flung topics as the offensiveness of patriotism, pornography addiction and the plight of waiters in fancy restaurants. Shawn also includes pieces on his life and work in the ivory tower of the artist, including an erudite interview with poet Mark Strand and a look at the creative process behind his celebrated plays, such as Aunt Dan and Lemon, which, with its disquisitions on the relative morality of figures like Adolph Hitler and “ordinary” people, touches on the themes of his politically inclined writings. Shawn is an urbane, lucid prose stylist, but this slim volume fails to satisfy. Perhaps the dynamic volubility and self-absorption of erstwhile dinner companion Andre Gregory would have provided a bracing contrast to the politely despairing nuggets offered here.

Well-intentioned and limpidly written, but thin and repetitive—a morsel, not a meal.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60846-002-1
Page count: 186pp
Publisher: Haymarket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2009


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