Leslie Epstein

Leslie Epstein directs the creative writing program at Boston University. His most recent novel is Ice Fire Water: A Leib Goldkorn Cocktail.

Recent Articles

Duel in the Sun

I 'd like to write a bit about my father, Philip G. Epstein, and my uncle, Julius J., and the feud that developed between them and their boss, Jack L. Warner--a feud that shines a certain light on larger conflicts in American culture. Julie got to Warner Bros. first. After giving up a career as a professional prizefighter (two wins and a draw: "I wanted to retire undefeated"), the bantamweight arrived in Hollywood in 1933 and set to work ghostwriting for Jerry Wald. Here's how the arrangement worked. Wald would take a lunch break from a story conference and dash over to the bungalow in the Valley where Julie sat churning out stories and scripts; then he would reappear at Warners, shouting, "I've got it!" This arrangement went on for 18 months, but has in a sense lasted forever, since the relationship became the basis for Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? In the fall of 1934, when Julie was just 25, he sold one of his ideas, Living on Velvet , to Warners and began a series of...

Monster and Man

Not long ago I saw a documentary film on Adolf Eichmann and was shocked by the sight of him: The smirk, the smile, seemed to yank his mouth nearly off his face. He looked like a boxer undergoing the impact of a right hook, or like a portrait by, of all people, Soutine, in which the suppressed inner life of the subject distorts every feature in its struggle to get out, twisting the mouth so it seems about to devour itself. What so unnerved me was that he looked precisely like the madman I had long since decided he was not. That is to say, until that moment I had subscribed to the view of Hannah Arendt that Eichmann was essentially a normal man, banal in all his inclinations, and at bottom indistinguishable from the rest of the bourgeoisie whose very respectability the Nazi regime counted on while turning them from good family men into hangmen. All too many people would rather make him a monster, a species apart, and so dissociate themselves from the wickedness in...

Roar of the Crowd

M y son Paul and I watched the fourth game of the 1998 American League Divisional Series from seats between home and first that had been provided by my other son, Theo. At the start of the eighth inning, with the Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead, Jimy Williams decided to replace Derek Lowe, who had already mowed down what seemed to be 10 (but were in fact five) little Indians, with his closer, Tom Gordon. On the instant, I was filled with foreboding. True, Gordon had pitched brilliantly all season, mixing a 92-mile-per-hour fastball with a curve that dove over the back part of the plate like a cormorant after a herring; no less true, he had been less than brilliant in nonsave situations or when asked to get more than three outs. Four batters later--out, hit, hit, hit, that last a double into the triangle--and the lead was gone, and so, as it happened, was the Red Sox season. Not to mention my self-respect. For to my own amazement, and surely Paul's, I had found myself on my feet, yelling...

Six Polish Women

N ot long ago my wife, Ilene, and I journeyed to Auschwitz, which I had been reading about, it seemed, for much the greater part of my life. As it turned out, I had a good deal yet to learn. My teacher was Alicja, the pleasant and scholarly camp researcher with whom we spent the day. The first thing she disabused me of was the now fashionable notion that Auschwitz has become an essentially commercial attraction. The truth is, there is no charge to enter the site and little for sale, no trinkets or mementos, only a few posters, a light lunch, and the modest and largely pedagogical books put out by overworked archivists like Alicja herself. The visitor need not fear amplified guides, a crush of tourists, or slickness of any kind. Poland is too poor, and the staff too dedicated, to permit the creation of an East-European Disneyland. Through morning and afternoon I noticed only two instances of vulgarity: The wood of the prisoners' bunks had been carved by adolescent boys-- Bruno! Bruno...

Civility and Its Discontents

I have set myself a moral puzzle. What would I do if I were a college president and had to decide the fate of a student who had been caught writing racial and ethnic epithets -- niggers back to Africa, Hitler didn't finish the job -- on the doors of, respectively, a black and Jewish classmate, and was suspected of writing gays suck! in the entryway of an openly bisexual dorm? Hangdog or defiant, the miscreant is brought before me. In real life I expect my reactions would run something like this: righteousness, rage even, before the door opened, along with a fixed determination to expel the criminal from our midst; and a sudden surge of curiosity, zeal for reformation, and a form of fellow feeling, once the flesh and blood chap appeared on the other side of my desk. That's one good reason why the destiny of others should not be placed in my hands. To expel or not expel? Even in the abstract, on paper, the question leaves me divided. My emotions boil at the prospect of having to share a...