In Montaigne's Tower: Essays

In Montaigne's Tower: Essays

In Montaigne's Tower: Essays

In Montaigne's Tower: Essays


In Montaigne's Tower is an engaging collection of personal essays written in the discursive mode of Montaigne, the author's mentor and model. Masters, who is known for his distinctive use of memory to define the present moment, uses his own perceptions, experiences, and sensibilities to examine familiar subjects like politics, human sexuality, abandonment, family relations, and even death. His essays are not meant to advance a cause or prove a point, but rather to explore universal subjects in terms of his own life. Most of them deal in some way with his career as a self-made man of letters.

Masters is an accomplished writer, and these essays, with their exact prose and narrative floew Letters, and Sewanee Review. "Going to Cuba" was awarded the Monroe Spears prize as the best essay to appear in the Sewanee Review. "In Montaigne's Tower" and "Making It Up" were selected for Best Essays of 1998 and Best American Essays respectively.


A sketch by Chekhov recounts the incident of two rural constables escorting an old vagrant to the local workhouse. the day is hot and their journey has been long and dusty. They decide to rest a little by the side of the road. the old man has refused to tell them his name or where he is from, but as he relaxes on the ground, he begins to spin a fancy of his homeland—a place of wondrous plenty. Clear, cool streams from which fish leap to catch themselves on lines. Berries and fruits fall ripe into outstretched hands. Milk and honey and always fair weather. His description enthralls the other two; they are carried away by his fantasy. Then, one of them snaps out of it, and they get back on the road. But, for a moment, both prisoner and police have been set free.

Our imaginations, often falsely confirmed by memory, can cross many borders, but these escapes are doomed and freedom always lies just beyond. For example, if I were to go out my door here on Monterey Street in Pittsburgh, take a right at the ymca on the corner, then continue in a southeasterly direction across the point where the Allegheny and the Monangahela Rivers agree to become the Ohio, and then, if I were still to continue this same range athwart the southern states, my next landfall would be Cuba. Just beyond Cuba lies the Isle of Pines.

“Where is the Isle of Pines?” It is August of 1951, and the basement dive of Louis’s on Sheridan Square is a frosty enclave within the steamed province of Greenwich Village. Rosemary Clooney is singing “C’mon to My House,” and the woman who has just sat down at my table has jumped up to dance to the quasi-Arabic melody, swaying in her summer dress to the blast of the jukebox. No one takes any notice of her; she moves within a cell of her own, a figurine turning within a bell jar.

Someone is always playing the song, always feeding the jukebox so that Clooney sings without let-up until closing time, which it is close to right now. Three A.M. Just before, while Clooney takes a break, this blonde walks over from the bar and sits down at my table. She doesn’t seem to be with anyone, and she carries a worn, leather portfolio under one arm. Out of this folder, she has taken a newspaper clipping and hands it to me. She is . . .

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