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.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 8, 2013 Issue

My April 8th New Yorker is looking pretty battered. It’s been rolled up and stuffed in my backpack for three weeks while I roamed around northern Italy. I read it on my April 15 flight to Florence. It’s a rich, absorbing issue. Six pieces stand out:

1. Sarah Stillman’s “Up in the Air,” a Talk story about a “drone party” (“Druce’s drone, equipped with sonar, did not take flight but wobbled on the pavement like a drunken Jabberwock”);

2. Mark Singer’s “Thar She Blows,” a Talk piece about the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit “Whales: Giants of the Deep” (“Three days before the exhibition opened, Professor Pou Temara, a specialist in Maori language and culture at the University of Waikato, in Hamilton, New Zealand, chanted a Maori blessing in a low monotone as he led a procession past displays of toothed and toothless whale skulls …”);

3. Jeremy Denk’s “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” a Personal History piece about Denk’s “piano student” experiences (“I couldn’t believe that, twenty years later, in this land of traffic lights and strip malls, we were both still carrying the memory of those two minutes of Bach”);

4. Hisham Matar’s “The Return,” an account of Matar’s return to Libya and his search for information regarding his father’s disappearance (“I remember the high eucalyptus trees in the front garden, their big and vivid shadows on the earth, black claws on the cars”);

5. Lizzie Widdicombe’s “The Bad-Boy Brand,” a profile of Vice Media and its hip C.E.O., Shane Smith (“We took a water taxi through the canals, past crumbling buildings and water-stained walls, and arrived at San Marco just as the floodwaters were rising. The area was swarming with tourists, and a narrow pathway of raised wooden planks was threaded precariously through the square. As the waters rose, the tourists crossed the square on the planks, shuffling in a long, two-person-wide line, like animals boarding Noah’s Ark”);

6. James Wood’s “Youth In Revolt,” a review of Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (“But it manifests itself as a pure explosion of now: it catches us in its mobile, flashing present, which is the living reality it conjures on the page at the moment we are reading”).

Of these six, my favorite is Widdicombe’s “The Bad-Boy Brand.” The last section, describing Smith and his crew wading through flooded Piazza San Marco (“The water was filthy, and occasionally a dead pigeon floated past”), is brilliant. Widdicombe’s “Rush” (September 13, 2012) was last year’s best Talk story. Her superb “The Bad-Boy Brand” may well be this year’s best feature. 

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