irwin shaw

Review of ‘Acceptable Losses’

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Irwin Shaw was a talented American writer who went into self-imposed exile in Europe after being targeted in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts of the 1950s.  From Europe, Shaw continued to write critically acclaimed works until his death in 1984, works that are now being reissued in e-book format.

Acceptable Losses was Shaw’s final book. It is the story of Roger Damon, a literary agent, who gets a strange phone call. The caller demands that they meet or else sins of Damon’s past will be exposed. He doesn’t take it seriously at first, but as the caller persists, Damon begins to reflect upon his past in an effort to identify his telephonic extortionist.

This story, like most of Shaw’s work, defies characterization. Filled with social commentary and mental journeys, it is also a mystery, as Damon’s caller continues to stalk him, But, typical of Shaw, we never know who or why. The stalker serves merely as a backdrop to Shaw’s views on the culture and social mores of the time.

If you like your fiction formulaic, you might not warm to this book, but if you like a good story that will suck you in and hold your interest for several hundred pages, get this book.

Five stars.

Review of ‘The Troubled Air’

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In the 1950s, the U.S. was reeling under the onslaught of Senator Joseph ‘Tail Gunner Joe’ McCarthy’s ‘lists’ of communists and communist sympathizers in government, and the entertainment industry maintained blacklists of artists and executives suspected of being fellow travelers. Many people, on the basis of nothing more than accusations, were deprived of their livelihoods or driven to exile or suicide.

In this troubled time, Clement Archer was the director of a popular radio show. His producer ordered him to fire five of his top performers because of a threat by a right-wing rag to publish the allegations if they were not dismissed. Archer finds himself caught between the practical path—obey and keep his job—and following his core beliefs of fairness and justice.

The Troubled Air by the late Irwin Shaw follows Archer on his torturous journey of self-discovery and confrontation, showing how cowardice can lead to betrayal, and how a determined few can intimidate the multitudes through bullying, lying, and coercion. Though fiction, it contains more than a grain of truth, and is worthwhile reading in our currently polarized political climate.

Shaw writes with the knowledge of someone who experienced the travails of the ‘Red Scare’ years. Falsely accused of being a member of the Communist Party in 1951, Shaw left his native land and lived abroad until his death in the 1980s. Unlike many victims of the witch hunts of the era, he was able at least to rebuild his career, going on to produce many outstanding works.

Anyone who wants to understand the human cost of political intimidation should read this book.

Five stars.