John Neufeld

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 236

Maia Wojciechowska is often a fine writer. ["'Don't Play Dead Before You Have To'"] is nearly one of those times.

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There are good things. Here is an attempt to write about the kid in-between—neither college nor slum-bound, neither bright nor deadeningly dumb, not ambitious but aware—the middle achiever who is too frequently ignored. There is an honest, moving, yet oddly oblique look at the depression and attempted suicide of a very bright child whose parents are separating. And there is a lovely coup de théâtre as an old man, a once-famous philosopher, allows a television interview knowing he will die on camera.

There are some not-so-good things, too. The contrivance on which the entire novel rests. An inconsistency of focus. A confusion about how perceptive, how alone our hero is really to be.

Can a book's basic flaws be overcome by enough shining albeit scattered moments? Miss Wojciechowska's other books have been alternately very good and very much less so. But there is an additional, happy feeling in "'Don't Play Dead Before You Have To'"—that of an author "getting it all together" for a new, and real, event. Perhaps, soon, a book as honest and moving as "Shadow of a Bull"?

John Neufeld, in his review of "Don't Play Dead Before You Have To," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 16, 1970, p. 22.

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