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, October 11, 2013

October 7, 2013 Issue

Claudia Roth Pierpont, in her absorbing “The Book of Laughter,” in this week’s issue, says, “Updike was a painter of words.” She likens him to Matisse (“Updike would be Matisse: the color, the sensuality”). Reading this, I thought, Yes, Matisse, and maybe a touch of Cézanne. Elizabeth Tallent, in her brilliant Married Men and Magic Tricks: John Updike’s Erotic Heroes (1982), commenting on Updike’s Couples, writes, “That Cézanne-like tactic of grappling after ‘shade and shape,’ characteristic of The Centaur, the Olinger Stories, and Rabbit Run is less in evidence here, although it never quite vanishes altogether.” This stems from an observation that Updike himself made in his brief, wonderful essay “Accuracy” (Picked-Up Pieces, 1976): “Language approximates phenomena through a series of hesitations and qualifications; I miss, in much contemporary writing, this sense of self-qualification, the kind of timid reverence toward what exists that Cézanne shows when he grapples for the shape and shade of a fruit through a mist of delicate stabs.”

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