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 Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins 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.

Friday, June 14, 2013

June 10 & 17, 2013 Issue

The transfixing specificity of the procedure used to decapitate the “green-leather motorcyclist” in Cormac McCarthy’s “Scenes of the Crime,” in this week’s issue, invaded my imagination, and still haunts me, as I write this, three days after I read it. Only McCarthy could’ve written it – the same McCarthy who wrote what is, for me, one of literatures most vivid, powerful, lyrical, horrifying, mesmerizing, violent scenes. I’m referring to the deadly knife-fight between the pimp Eduardo and John Grady Cole near the end of McCarthy’s extraordinary Border Trilogy. “Bar ditch” and “blacktop” figure in the Border Trilogy (although only in passing), as they do (more centrally) in “Scenes of the Crime.” In the series' second book, The Crossing, McCarthy writes, “He crossed through the bar ditch and rode up onto the blacktop and slowed the horse and looked back.” In “Scenes of the Crime,” the green rider is killed on the blacktop, and the septic-tank truck driver (“the wire man”) is fatally shot by “the wounded man” in the bar ditch. It’s all very surreal. Yet the details [e.g., the flatbed truck, the floodlight, the humming wire, the bouncing helmet (with the green rider’s head inside it), the brown sewage spouting from the bullet hole in the septic-tank] are amazing – “solidity within unreality,” as Updike said about Magritte (Always Looking, 2012). As spellbinding as “Scenes of the Crime” is, it contains only one sentence that’s comparable to the Border Trilogy’s inspired writing. It’s a description of what happens to the motorcycle after its rider’s head “zips away”: “The bike continues on, the motor slows and dies to silence, and in the distance we see a long slither of sparks recede into the dark.” That “long slither of sparks” is very fine. 

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