PLEASE, MR. EINSTEIN, by Jean-Claude Carri�re.
Translated from the French by John Brownjohn. Harcourt, 192 pp., $22.
Novels have long examined Albert Einstein's life and work. We enjoy poking
around in the lives of geniuses, perhaps hoping to find something in common.
Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carri�re's "Please, Mr. Einstein" reads like a play:
A young woman seeks the great man
some 60 years after his death. She finds herself in a nondescript building,
in an anteroom with various ordinary people and historical figures. Since
she's the only woman (Einstein had a weakness), she's let in immediately.
Einstein is glad to see her: She's from the future, proving that the world
hasn't yet been destroyed by nuclear weapons. His guilt as a pacifist whose
work was used to nefarious ends is a major theme of their conversations. He
the subjectivity of time and space, opens doors onto virtual scenes that
clarify his theories and his role in history. They discuss recent developments
in physics: string theory, dark energy, dark matter. "What a garden of delights
it is!" he
says of the vital optimism of science. "What an enchanted journey! ... What
mental stupefaction and rapture, what daydreams!"
A PERFECT MESS: The Hidden Benefits
of Disorder, by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman. Little, Brown, 336
Good news! Organization is overrated. Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
offer studies and interviews revealing the tyranny of organizing, our
unwarranted guilt about messes, the beauty of mess and how suited it is to the
way the mind works. ("Our brains evolved to function in a messy world, and ...
when we insist on thinking in neat, orderly ways we're really holding our minds
back from doing what they do best.") Einstein's desk at Princeton was an
example of "stupendous disarray." Desk mess seems to grow with education,
salary and experience. There are chapters on the history of mess (starting with
efforts to control nature), our fear of domestic mess, the need for messiness
in city planning and the Seven Highly Overrated Habits of Time Management. The
authors rely heavily on data and methods of the burgeoning and amusing
organization industry, including the National Association of Professional
Organizers. Their book is thought-provoking, well-organized, badly needed.
HIM HER HIM AGAIN THE END OF HIM, by Patricia Marx. Scribner, 232 pp., $24.
'I was in high school when I read 'The Bell Jar' and thought it was about a
lucky girl who wins a contest and gets to go to Europe." Patricia Marx's
opening riff on Sylvia Plath's light side, her
breeziness over Plath's
"despair and the conclusive oven thing," exemplify the dark hilarity
simmering under Marx's novel. Like Plath, Marx's heroine goes off
to Cambridge and falls in
love with a wrongo, although the path landing her in
Eugene Obello's lap is strewn with lessons: "I must have intuitively known
even then ... that if you ask a certain type of guy about himself, it's as good
as winding a wind-up toy. For a given amount of time, [he] requires only
minimal attention.... In this way, men are easier than plants."
Eugene is a student in the ego-studies department; their courtship involves
conversations about, say, which syllable to stress in "hegemony." He talks
funny: "Your kisses are so recondite, my peach, that they are almost
notional." He's a jerk in every way. The heroine returns to Philadelphia, her
thesis on race relations in England understandably incomplete, to pursue a
career in comedy writing. Eugene re-enters her life, toting wife and child, and
sets himself up as a psychologist. Marx, a former writer for "Saturday Night
Live," has a lovely belly-up-to-the-bar style. "You're a good listener,"she
tells us. "Plus, I bet you have a winning way of turning the page."