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, May 6, 2015

May 4, 2015 Issue

When did Colin Firth’s nose turn terra cotta? Why is the area above his left eye teal-colored? Why are Meredith Monk’s cheeks bandaged with strips of coral, lemon chiffon, puce, and aquamarine? When did Helen Mirren’s face develop all those cracks and fissures? What is the meaning of that turquoise dab under Penelope Fitzgerald’s left nostril? These are just some of the questions that run through my mind as I gaze at Connor Langton’s beguiling, eye-catching, delectable New Yorker illustrations. Consider his arresting “Thomas Cromwell,” an illustration for Emily Nussbaum’s "Queens Boulevard," in this week’s issue: fractured alabaster visage daubed with clay paints; subtle backdrop of pastel Tudor imagery and pattern. Langton’s portraits are among the most strikingly original artworks to appear in the magazine in the last five years.

Conor Langton, "Thomas Cromwell"
Postscript: The two pieces in this week’s issue I found most absorbing are Dana Goodyear’s "The Dying Sea" and James Wood’s "Circling the Subject." Goodyear’s piece is about California’s shrinking Salton Sea, “one of the last significant wetlands remaining on the migratory path between Alaska and Central America.” It’s sort of a companion to Goodyear’s great "Death Dust" (The New Yorker, January 20, 2014). Wood’s piece is a review of Amit Chaudhuri’s novel Odysseus Abroad. It touches on a couple of Wood’s preoccupations – the representation of undramatic life (“there is no obvious plot, no determined design, no faked ‘conflict’ or other drama”), and homelessness (“Each immigrant deals with the loss of his home, and the quest for a new one, in his own way”). 

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