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.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 14, 2013 Issue

The piece in this week’s issue that I enjoyed most is Nathan Heller’s “Bay Watched.” It took me a few minutes to warm to it. I’m not much interested in tech business. But Heller’s experiential, subjective approach – his liberal use of “I” (“One day, I took Highway 1 from San Francisco down along the beaches and the eucalyptus forests to meet Timothy C. Draper, a fifty-something third-generation venture capitalist, at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay”) – drew me in. He writes lovely, rhythmical, textured lines (“Passing down Cole Street and Irving Street and through the weft of avenues out to the park, I used to watch the urban landscape changing: five-and-dimes would become food shops; restaurants and cafés stood where bakeries and fabric stores had been. By night, candles flickered on the tables of big-windowed wine bars. Men in bright sneakers and women in boots spilled into the fog. A swell of humming conversation, wine, perfume, and roasting garlic trailed them through the open doors. If promises were made to those of us who started to grow up then, I thought, they came from the glow and freedom of those boom-time nights.”). And his syntax is succulent (“‘So the cost to build and launch a product went from five million’ – his marker skidded across the white board – ‘to one million’ – more arrows – ‘to five hundred thousand’ – he made a circle – ‘and it’s now to fifty thousand.’”). Even though his material – entrepreneurial culture – is exceedingly denatured, he still takes time to notice fog (“It was the kind of day that kicks aside the quilt of summer fog, and every detail of a northern coast of the bay showed clearly in the late afternoon light”) and shade (“It was breezy, and it smelled of jasmine, and the movement of palm leaves overhead stippled everything with small feathers of shade”). Heller is a wonderfully sensual writer. There’s a line in his “Semi-Charmed Life” (The New Yorker, January 14, 2013) - “The skin above her collarbone had the clean, smoky, late-October smell of candle wax” – that went straight into my personal anthology of great New Yorker sentences. I’m pleased to see he’s joined the magazine as a staff writer. I look forward to more of his delicious writing. 

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