SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE
Denlinger’s Publishers, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Martin Scorsese never enters into SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE. The title refers to a self-assessment written by a priest, who we meet nursing a drink in a dive in the stews of Manhattan. Father Michael Din has no calling to the priesthood, and he’s wondering what to do about it. What he does in the next two days will decide that for him.
Person by person Father Din meets the habitués of the Saints & Sinners Club. Each new acquaintance pulls him farther into the problem posed by Monk, self-styled High Priest of the Church of Moral Freaks. Monk enjoys twisting people’s minds, and Father Din finds that, calling or no calling, he cannot allow it. The beautiful Toddy Muir and her estranged husband must be protected, the pathetic Dedi Pavon and his sister Pilar avenged, and various peripheral characters removed from Monk’s influence.
Father Din is no hero, so where will he look for help? To his own senior priest, or to a vengeful cop out to get Monk at all costs? And when he asks, who will respond? How you react to the last section of the book will depend on your answer to the question: What is a priest, and what should he be? By that point in SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE, I guarantee you will have considered this question. Author E.M. Schorb presents us with the issue devoid of abstractions, in the lives of people we know.
This is a wholly believable exploration of problems that are very real to some people. Some of the squalor is shorn away to make it more palatable for the middle class reader, but even so, these problems are so unpleasant that most of us will never touch them. The scene in which Dedi shoots up heroin is wincingly real, however Schorb never loses sight of a more important confrontation. Even worse than Dedi’s needle probing is Monk’s sadistic game, which is going on at the same time.
Unlike the author’s award-winning mystery PARADISE SQUARE, a great deal of what we know about SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE’s characters comes from what is going on inside their heads, an irresistibly authentic introduction. The environment crawls with detail, little of it pleasant but much of it well-written, sometimes even inspired. What is important about the environment, it is clear, is its effect on the people who live in it. It is fortunate for us, the readers, that the author’s position of observer allows us to share the observer stance, because this would be a very uncomfortable world to be drawn into.
Among the characters we meet are a small group affiliated in various ways with a Black Muslim group, bumbling about on its own plotline which intersects only faintly with the conflict represented by Father Din and Monk. True, the denouement is spectacular, but out of proportion with its actual effect on our story, and leaving out that whole secondary plot might have tightened up the structure and pace. I say this with reluctance, because most of the people of this other plot gradually engage the sympathies, and I can understand that the author might have felt too much attachment to let go of them.
SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE is notable for considering the needs and ethics of living without the slightest philosophizing, using only the experiences of its characters to push its point. E.M. Schorb has made a very promising beginning as a novelist in two different genres. I suggest the reader pay attention to the chapter titles in SCORSESE: some of them are little gems of summing-up. The human compassion and environmental richness of SCENARIO FOR SCORSESE effectively pulled me into a story I hope never to see in reality.
Feb 2001 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site
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