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Writing Wrongs (American Subjects) Hardcover – March 5, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A closer look at the life and literary work of one of the more enigmatic dramatists of our time-- Wallace Shawn, author of idiosyncratic plays and films including the art-house hit My Dinner With Andre, the off-Broadway Aunt Dan and Lemon, and the recently-filmed London hit The Designated Mourner, whose power was such that it drew director Mike Nichols back to the stage as an actor. Shawn manages to be that strange creature, an anti-intellectual intellectual, someone who could write an entire play consisting of a single protracted dinner conversation while showing his impatience at the idea of such a conversation. Things that most writers accept on faith--high aspirations, the need to help others, the desirability of education and reading--are very much on the table with Shawn. Maybe these aren't such good things, Shawn seems to say. I'll dramatize for you exactly where these things can lead, and then try to tell me they're still good. If you come to this book, bring an open mind.

From Library Journal

Many know Shawn's face from annual appearances on Murphy Brown, but theater and film aficionados know Shawn as the creator of some of the most thought-provoking works of the last two decades, particularly the plays Aunt Dan and Lemon and The Designated Mourner and the films My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street. In this incisive and absorbing study of a fascinating man and his work, King incorporates a perceptive and full analysis of each of Shawn's works with interviews with Shawn and those who know him and extraordinarily revealing telephone answering-machine tapes. The reader can see why King won the Joe D. Callaway Prize for the best book on theater for Henry Irving's "Waterloo" (Univ. of California, 1993), and one may be seized by the burning desire to rent My Dinner with Andre after reading this engaging work. Recommended for all large public and academic libraries, especially those with theater holdings.?Susan L. Peters, Emory Univ. Lib., Atlanta, Ga.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: American Subjects
  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press; First Edition edition (March 5, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566395178
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566395175
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
We needed a good book on Wallace Shawn -- in fact, we still do. But this is something. The summary of early plays is quite helpful, considering how hard it is to find these and actually read them (besides, on the basis of the summaries of some of these -- particularly 'The Hospital Play' -- I'm not sure I'd want to read them.) And some of the points are interesting, but they seem isolated -- there is no large thesis or vision uniting the book. Still, when Shawn takes hold of you, you want to read everyting you can find on him. The best part is the interview between WS and Mark Strand, which is simply fascinating.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By LAM on November 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Writing Wrongs" is a fine, very helpful book. King does a nice job of laying out the broad strokes of Shawn's dramatic philosophy, while simultaneously providing enough detail about the individuals works themselves. The greatest benefit of King's summaries is their thoroughness. These summaries are not the pat, shallow kinds of things that are far too common in treatments like these. In particular, King's handling of "Our Late Night," a shockingly-hard-to-find play from the early 1970s is to be commended. King's ability to bring forth the biting sarcasm and sagacity of "Our Late Night" is one of the highest points of his book. More generally, I cannot imagine that the broadly outlined, yet detailed approach was an easy balance to strike, and King should be applauded for his facility. I must, however, agree with the previous reviewer that the definitive work on Shawn is still to be written.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. Bishop on July 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There's so much to savor in this book. There's just the right amount of commentary by Shawn himself and the people he's worked with; the plays are placed in the context of Shawn's life, his evolving experimentation as a writer, and his lifelong engagement with the production of live theater; the discussion of little-seen early plays adds considerable depth to the work as a whole; and King's summaries of the plays are generally very well done (with the exception of The Designated Mourner, which he misreads badly in a way that unfortunately many critics have done - then again, the play was still very new at the time).

What remains is uneven and sometimes maddening, especially when it comes to the parallels and divergences between Shawn and other writers. King makes some good points, but has a tendency to pound a vague metaphor into the ground, and gets so carried away describing Shawn as an "anti-theater" rebel that he makes a few clumsy and ridiculous statements (at one point he lumps together O'Neill, Chekhov, Kafka, Beckett, and Ionesco in a single modernist movement that he insists Shawn is entirely separate from); he later backs off from these, mostly. I got the (possibly unfair) impression that the author was not particularly familiar with or interested in experimental theater after 1950, and that this made it harder to explain what's unique about Shawn.

All in all, it's an essential book for anyone who cares about Shawn's plays, but you'll need a high tolerance for a certain kind of overconfident academic writing.

(There's a longer review on my website, A Wallace Shawn Reference, which I must admit owes a huge amount to King's book.)
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