Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Pushing Time Away, by Peter Singer (Ecco; $24.95). David Oppenheim was a classical scholar, a member of Freud's inner circle, and a close friend of the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler. He was also a victim of the Holocaust, and until his grandson, the philosopher Peter Singer, discovered a trove of his letters and writings, his life had been almost completely forgotten. Singer reconstructs that life in fascinating detail. He illuminates the complexities of his grandparents' difficult but successful marriage, evokes the vibrant and disputatious life of early-twentieth-century Vienna, and offers a convincing picture of the intellectual and personal battles that dominated the early days of psychoanalysis. Singer's moving book, haunted from the beginning by its terrible end, constitutes a revolt against the anonymity of the Holocaust's grim statistics.

Jarhead, by Anthony Swofford (Scribner; $24). In 1990, Swofford, a young Marine sniper, went to Saudi Arabia with dreams of vaporizing Iraqi skulls into clouds of "pink mist." As he recounts in this aggressively uninspiring Gulf War memoir, his youthful bloodlust was never satisfied. After spending months cleaning sand out of his rifle--so feverish with murderous anticipation that he almost blows a buddy's head off after an argument--Swofford ends up merely a spectator of a lopsided battle waged with bombs, not bullets. The rage the soldiers feel, their hopes of combat frustrated, is "nearly unendurable." Swofford's attempts at brutal honesty sometimes seem cartoonish: "Rape them all, kill them all" is how he sums up his military ethic. He is better at comic descriptions--gas masks malfunctioning in the desert heat, camels picked off during target practice--that capture the stupid side of a smart-bomb war.

W. C. Fields, by James Curtis (Knopf; $35). Fields had a big nose, he hated Philadelphia, he bludgeoned swans with a 5-iron, he was almost the wizard in "The Wizard of Oz," he drank himself to death. …

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