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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 21, 2014 Issue

Ben McGrath’s “Big Air,” in this week’s issue, an account of the 2014 Austin X Games, fizzes in the same delightful way that his sparkling piece on the 2012 London Olympics (“Medals and Marketing,” The New Yorker, August 13 & 20, 2012), did. McGrath’s writing effervesces in direct proportion to the amount of exotic lingo generated by his subjects. The X Games is a cornucopia of action-sports argot (“BMX dirt mounds,” “the megaramp,” “Stadium Super Trucks,” “Big Air events,” “freestyle motocross”). McGrath revels in it. His avidity produces sentences that are, in their offbeat specificity, simply delicious. Take this line, for example:

Big Air events, for skateboarding and BMX, respectively, filled the prime-time slots on Friday and Saturday nights, bringing dope clouds to the hillside overlooking the megaramp.

Or this one:

I watched an Evil Genius pick up his backpack and head abruptly for the exit, so I followed him, catching him just in time to see him put on a pair of Ray-Bans with camouflaged frames, good for blending in with the fans arriving for Super Trucks.

“Big Air” brims with amazing, quasi-surreal word combos beautifully capturing both the allure and the “ad-hoc scruffiness” of X Games culture. I enjoyed it immensely.

Postscript: A special shout-out to Sue Song for her wonderful “Heart,” particularly its inspired closing stanza: “Forgive those years I left you / pounding your Morse of grief, alone – / knocking against my sternum, / wondering if I was even there.

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