The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet (2011, Sentinel)
This is an engaging book with a tragic end. David Mamet is one of the world’s great playwrights. Although not as prolific as Neil Simon, he has nonetheless earned the respect of thousands of people and he has influence. Some phrases from his movies and plays have even slipped into the common vernacular. “Coffee is for closers,” for example.
This book came at the end of a long struggle with his political identity. To give an indication of where his popularity was strongest, the essay from which it sprung was originally published in the Village Voice.
The book charts his pursuit of the promises made by the leftist agenda. While I would not attempt to write for him, I can summarize the book. The summary goes as follows:
The Democrats promised that the reason top-down control from the elite would work is that they have access to more information than anyone else. I worked for decades and received direct access to all of the elite, became one of them. They don’t have that special information, they’re as venal and clueless as anyone else. The problems with socialism really are problems, the promises that they can be bypassed are bunk. Democrats are lying to you.
If that were as far as it went, I’d champion the book as a great (if a touch redundant in parts) autobiographical piece that explained political growth. Unfortunately, Mamet seems to have run from one side directly to the other. While he is not currently outspoken on Trump, he makes no effort to hide his adoration of Tucker Carlson.
It’s a good book, very well written. I will caution about lining up behind Mamet, though, as much as I caution about lining up behind anyone. The man who wrote the book is just as flawed as the man who was a Clinton-adoring playwright in the 1990s.
Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates (1992, Dutton)
Black Water is a short novel by one of the most heralded authors of the modern age, and it earned her little love from the Kennedy clan. It is one of Oates’ fictionalizations of true events, in this case the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne.
The book focuses entirely upon the end of Kopechne’s life, focusing on a fateful party and concluding at the bottom of a river. It is unflinching and heartbreaking, as Oates develops her character well enough to make her choices seem natural.
The sense of being trapped enters into the book quickly, with “Kelly Kelleher” feeling honored to have been the one chosen by “the Senator”, with the reader seeing (through knowledge of what is to come) the event more in the style of a sacrifice to political gods than a romantic liaison.
It’s short, it’s well-constructed, and it’s a timely reminder not to put blind faith in a political hero. A book from 1992, written for 2019.