Introduction

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.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 22, 2013 Issue

Saul Bellow forged a brilliant style. But in the process, according to Greg Bellow’s Saul Bellow’s Heart: A Son’s Memoir, he sacrificed a son. Was it worth it? James Wood’s absorbing “Sins of the Father,” in this week’s issue, says yes. Wood writes, “In two or three generations, that story will have faded from memory, outlived by what it enabled.” Wood’s verdict is too harsh. It’s true that most future readers of such masterpieces as The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler’s Planet will not likely bother to go behind the books to Bellow’s personal history. But those few who do will find the son’s memoir. It’s now part of the record. As Janet Malcolm said in respect of Angelica Garnett’s Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood, “But Angelica’s cry, her hurt child’s protest, her disappointed woman’s bitterness will leave their trace, like a stain that won’t come out of a treasured Persian carpet and eventually becomes part of its beauty” (“A House of One’s Own,” in Malcolm’s great Forty-one False Starts).

Postscript: My two favorite sentences in this week’s issue: (1) “Overhead, banner planes towed news of extraordinary holiday mattress deals, while bored-looking lifeguards, with no one to save, lounged in their chairs” (John Seabrook, “The Beach Builders”); (2) “But the literary assessments are so wrongheaded as to give the book a migraine of unreliability” (James Wood, “Sins of the Father”).  

Second Postscript: I was pleased to find a piece by Christine Smallwood in this week’s issue. Her “The In-Between World,” a review of the Dardennes’ great The Kid with a Bike (The New York Review of Books, May 10, 2012), was one of last year’s highlights. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the magazine. 

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