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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

June 8 & 15, 2015 Issue

James Wood, in his great The Nearest Thing to Life, says, “The real, in fiction, is always a matter of belief – it is up to us as readers to validate and confirm.” I confess I’m a nonbeliever. For whatever reason – lack of imagination, skepticism, a Heaney-like desire to see things plain (“things founded clean on their own shapes”) – I’m unable to suspend my disbelief. And so, when The New Yorker’s Summer Fiction Issue appears, as it has this week, I gravitate toward what seem to me to be the least fictional pieces. For example, Thomas McGuane’s "Fall River," in this week’s issue, appears to be mostly personal history. It contains a wonderful line that went straight into my personal anthology of great New Yorker sentences:

I also have a deck of playing cards with bathing beauties in arousing costumes to distract me, as well as match rockets, which I light in the basement until I’m rebuked for trying to burn the house down, baseball in North Park, daring trips to the third floor’s sagging porch, which is about to fall into Brownell Street and has been declared out of bounds, and rides with my Uncle Frank in his “foreign” car, a Ford (he calls it foreign because “it is entirely foreign to me”).

That “daring trips to the third floor’s sagging porch, which is about to fall into Brownell Street” is inspired!

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