Books: A Will to be Great

O'NEILL: SON AND PLAYWRIGHT by Louis Sheaffer. 543 pages. Little, Brown. $10.

Eugene O'Neill will probably be remembered as one of the most flawed major playwrights in history. Aiming for greatness, he often achieved only length. When he tries to make his characters Greek-tragic, they appear just plain accident-prone. The notoriously awkward prose of The Iceman Cometh inspired Mary McCarthy to remark: "You cannot write a Platonic dialogue in the style of Casey at the Bat."

Yet something in O'Neill refuses to be belittled. It is as if his greatness lies in his will...

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