Thursday, March 22, 2012

Peacetime Lies

Louis Begley is the author of Wartime Lies. The novel’s central character Maciek, a Polish Jewish child, escapes extermination by passing for Catholic. Begley is also the author of three novels about an aging gentleman named Albert Schmidt, one of which, About Schmidt, was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson. Both Wartime Lies and the Schmidt books are partially autobiographical. Here is what Begley says “about Schmidt” in last Sunday’s Review section of the Times (“Age and Its Awful Discontents,” NYT 3/17/12). “Schmidt is 60 when we meet him in l991; when we part on New Year’s Day 2009, he is 78, therefore a couple of years older than I was then. Life has not been kind to him, but so far, Schmidt enjoys excellent health, marching up and down the Atlantic beach in Bridgehampton and New York City’s avenues, and doing laps in his pool. Although he worries about performance, his libido is intact. Nevertheless, the reflection of his face in the window of a shop is frightening: he sees a red nose and bloodshot eyes, lips pursed up tight over stained and uneven teeth, an expression so lugubrious and so pained it resists his efforts to smile. My appreciation of my own charms is not very different. Like Schmidt, I see that nothing good awaits me at the end of the road, and that passing years will turn my life into a Via Crucis.” Interestingly both Begley’s earlier widely heralded effort Wartime Lies and his most recent work, while dealing, with two widely separated stages of life (the beginning and the end) share one theme in common: survival. Maciek survives because he can pass for something he is not, particularly since he doesn’t look Jewish. But for all his efforts at fitness, and the kind of health that comes from being able to afford the best medical care, Schmidt (aka Begley) cannot hide his age, nor avoid the imminent extinction which his more youthful though less affluent persona was so deftly able to elude.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.