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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 30, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

MAKE-BELIEVE TOWN: Essays and Remembrances by David Mamet (Little, Brown: $22.95; 207 pp.). David Mamet. Think, cool. Think, distance from the subject matter. Think, set out to be not just another playwright but the best playwright, who wants to be remembered for his plays, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," "American Buffalo," "Speed-the-Plow" and "Glengarry Glen Ross," which won him a Pulitzer Prize. Now he's written a book of essays that tells more about how he got there.

Mamet grew up in the New York theater, studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse on East 54th Street, got his first job as an usher at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, went to Ashers or the Bitter End at night for fun, and then went on to the Cherry Lane, the Circle Rep and the Public. And though you might think of him with a demure baseball cap protecting his smoking brain from the elements, he is, he confesses in one essay, and will remain, a fop.

Perhaps the most revealing essay in this collection is "The Northern Novel," in which Mamet designates Theodore Dreiser and Willa Cather as the two greatest American writers. "The novel of the East is, to me, too pretty," he writes. "I prefer to read about survival."

Mamet means a lot of things by the word "survival." The essay "Gems From a Gambler's Bookshop," in which he quotes several of his favorite books on poker playing and from the inimitable "Art of War" by Sun Tzu, offers some tips on how to win. But when Mamet thinks about survival in most of these essays, he is thinking about being Jewish.

"Jewish kids," he writes, "are a minority in a country that has always been--disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding--a Christian country." A country with a nostalgia for homogeneity, which, he writes, "excludes the Jew."

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