What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 17, 2011 Issue

Pick Of The Issue this week is a tussle between four pieces: Evan Osnos’s report on the Fukushima meltdowns (“The Fallout”); James Wood’s review of Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Stranger’s Child (“Sons and Lovers”); Dan Chiasson’s review of Dorothea Tanning’s poetry collection Coming to That (“Late Harvest”); and Peter Schjeldahl’s review of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts show “Degas and the Nude” (“Bare Naked Ladies”). Each is excellent in its own way. Osnos’s piece encompasses a vast amount of information, drawn from an impressive array of sources, artfully arranged in twelve sections. The message I gleaned from it is that the Fukushima disaster was anthropogenic. Osnos says:

The March tsunami was history’s most expensive natural disaster, with losses estimated at three hundred billion dollars. But the Fukushima meltdowns, the world’s worst nuclear accident in twenty-five years, were man-made, the consequences of failures that laid bare how far Japan’s political and technological rigor have drifted from their apex.

James Wood’s “Sons and Lovers” is an amusing examination of some of Hollinghurst’s stylistic tics, such as his repeated use of “levelly,” “narrowly,” and “muddle.” Wood sums up his assessment of Hollinghurst’s novel as follows:

“The Stranger’s Child” is a frustrating book, both a large and a curiously small novel – it trembles for a time on the verge of moving beyond the parochialism of its very familiar literary setting, and is finally happy to fall back into the comfy and known.

Chiasson’s “Late Harvest” contains this inspired observation: “But the poem’s tactical chitchat is Tanning’s fierce way of defying time.”

Schjeldahl, in his “Bare Naked Ladies,” composes several beautifully contoured, sparkling figurations, e.g., “Viewing his work, we breathe the dizzyingly thin air on the snowy peak of the capital ‘A’ in Art”; “The show yields an immersive sense of early modern art as a tidal wave of hot-and-bothered genius.” And it features a line – “His dancers’ perfect arabesques evoke a soundtrack of grunts” – that, in its brilliant connection between form (“perfect arabesques”) and sound (“soundtrack of grunts”), clinches my decision to make “Bare Naked Ladies” this week’s Pick Of The Issue.

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