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Three War Stories by David Mamet
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Three War Stories

by David Mamet

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The magic of Mamet is that his (better) characters push themselves or are pushed to the breaking point, and then beyond. They then reveal the depths of their weaknesses and perhaps strengths they didn’t know they had. The peaks and valleys are gaping. This book does not go there.

It is a collection of three stories, all connected to wars.

Redwing takes up more than half the book. Its conceit is that an old sailor, who no longer has need to lie or protect or seek gain, tells the truth about his life and experiences. He gets to compare it all to an autobiographical novel he published earlier, correcting and “quoting” liberally. He has had adventures – dealing with pirates, being imprisoned in a foreign land for years, and doing battle with the seas. But he never makes a connection to the reader.

The story is as flat as a pancake. It constantly drops names you don’t know that will figure in later substories, but it never builds to anything. There is no climax, no attachment to any characters, and nothing to resolve. It’s like Philippe Muray without the humor: a lot of miscellaneous philosophizing, all jammed together.

Notes on Plains Warfare is also the reminiscences of an old man, this time a Civil War solider who was then sent to kill Plains Indians. Mamet applies a lot of angles, giving him insight into Indian ceremonies, seeing things from their perspective, and combining the narrator’s experience with other knowledge gained over a lifetime. It has more real detail and depth, but the voice is totally inauthentic: “The Zoroastrians indeed could have been inspired to their noted dualism by the selfsame process of delight and absolute aversion.” This is not the incendiary Mamet you hope for.

The third story is called The Handle and The Hold. This last, shortest story, is more like the Mamet we’ve come to respect. It is entirely conversation instead of narration. It occurs among Vegas thugs, Jewish Vegas thugs, who recount World War II stories from home and abroad, as they steal an old bomber and fly it to Palestine with a load of contraband arms. There’s lots to talk about and lots of time to kill. The banter is rapid and economical. There is a climax. There is a point. It saves the book, if one out of three is sufficient. ( )
  DavidWineberg | Oct 20, 2013 |
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