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 Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Interesting Emendations: John Updike's "The Assassination"


Courtesy International Center of Photography














Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Kennedy’s death is the subject of one of The New Yorker’s most memorable Talk of the Town stories – John Updike’s “The Assassination” (December 7, 1963). Here’s an excerpt:

It was as if we slept from Friday to Monday and dreamed an oppressive, unsearchably significant dream, which, we discovered on awaking, millions of others had dreamed also. Furniture, family, the streets, and the sky dissolved; only the dream on television was real. The faces of the world’s great mingled with the faces of landladies who had happened to house an unhappy ex-Marine; cathedrals alternated with warehouses, temples of government with suburban garages; anonymous men tugged at a casket in a glaring airport; a murder was committed before our eyes; a Dallas strip-tease artist drawled amiably of her employer’s quick temper; the heads of state of the Western world strode down a sunlit street like a grim village rabble; and Jacqueline Kennedy became Persephone, the Queen of Hades and the beautiful bride of grief. All human possibilities, of magnificence and courage, of meanness and confusion, seemed to find an image in this long montage, and a stack of cardboard boxes in Dallas, a tawdry movie house, a tiny rented room where some shaving cream still clung to the underside of a washbasin, a row of parking meters that had witnessed a panicked flight all acquired the opaque and dreadful importance that innocent objects acquire in nightmares.

That “tiny rented room where some shaving cream still clung to the underside of a washbasin” is inspired! Updike brilliantly captures the assassination’s surreal reality. Interestingly, the version of “The Assassination” contained in Updike’s 1965 Assorted Prose differs from the New Yorker piece. For example, the last paragraph of the New Yorker story is deleted. But the heart of the piece - the “unsearchably significant dream” passage quoted above - remains the same. As well it should – it’s perfect. 

1 comment:

  1. New Release: Death of the Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone.
    Surely Robert Stone is one of the best writers of individual scenes in all of our literature – think of the scene in A Flag for Sunrise where Tabor shoots his dogs, or in Children of Light where members of a film crew mistake the phrase “Bosch’s Garden” for “Butch’s Garden”, which they speculate is an S&M joint in Los Angeles.
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-release-death-of-black-haired-girl.html#.Up9tfDYo6M8

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