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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July 6 & 13, 2015 Issue

Notes on this week’s issue:

1. Lawrence Wright’s "Five Hostages" is written in the third person – my least favorite perspective. Nevertheless, the piece totally absorbed me. It’s about five Americans kidnapped in Syria and their families’ fight to save them. It’s beautifully structured. But it has a political aspect I’m not sure I agree with. It’s rough on Obama for the “ineffectiveness” of his policy on terrorist kidnappings. But it wasn’t Obama who put these five people in harm’s way. They voluntarily assumed the grave risk of being kidnapped and murdered when they crossed into Syria. My take-away from this powerful piece is two-fold: (1) ISIS is one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever seen; (2) outsiders who venture into Syria should do so without illusion; they’re risking their lives.

2. Laura Miller, in her enjoyable "The System," a review of Don Winslow’s novel The Cartel, says of Winslow’s previous novel The Power of the Dog, “But none of it is a laughing matter.” Then, in the next line, she says, “Scratch that. Some of The Power of the Dog is funny.” Her sudden reversal made me smile. It’s an example of a critic winging it. Pauline Kael would approve.

3. And now here’s a collage of my favorite lines in this week’s issue:

The fibrousness of the paper and the uniqueness of each painstaking ridge turn the impassive gray or black surfaces of Park’s canvases into unexpected terrain (“Goings On About Town: Art: Park Seo-bo”) | The film’s good cheer seems less infectious than enforced; the cinematic embrace is stifling, and the good vibes feel overdone, like a present-tense trip of instant nostalgia (Richard Brody, “Goings On About Town: Movies: A Poem Is a Naked Person”) | Hitchcock’s ultimate point evokes cosmic terror: innocence is merely a trick of paperwork, whereas guilt is the human condition (Richard Brody, “Goings On About Town: Movies: The Wrong Man”) | Once he’d been spotted, a glass of marmalade-colored Languedoc in hand, the music writers made quick work of a plate of prosciutto and calculated an intricate split of their bill (Amelia Lester, “Tables For Two: The Four Horsemen”) | By the time a late-night June rainstorm appears, and the subway’s lesser, more beige lines are being contemplated, Murphy has migrated from a table to the bar, where the bartender is pouring a quietly effervescent rosé out of a not so quiet magnum (Amelia Lester, “Tables For Two: The Four Horsemen”) | The distillery is in a brick building with the warm smell of a country club’s oak locker room (Emma Allen, “Bar Tab: Kings County Distillery”) | His breakfast companion, who had been enjoying the gentle intensity of his company—the Concorde doesn’t take an article in British English, he said; he was certain that left-handers were overrepresented in the pilot population; he loves the B and C gates of Heathrow’s Terminal 5; flying back from Vancouver in winter, you can see the Northern Lights almost every night; when a B.A. pilot shows up for work, his iPad must be charged to at least seventy-five per cent—was suddenly put in mind of an ancient activity of her own, going on dates in restaurants that had televisions (Lauren Collins, “Bird’s-Eye View”) | Out on the runway, a queue was forming: a Middle East Airlines A320, bound for Beirut; a KLM 737, heading back to Amsterdam; the state aircraft of the United Arab Emirates, a private 747, half snow goose, half tapir, its snout sniffing the sky (Lauren Collins, “Bird’s-Eye View”) | Schick’s interpretation, which he has been honing for forty years, is a sinuous audiovisual ballet in which hard-hitting, rat-a-tat drum solos intermingle with subtle, whispery sounds, as of a tapped gong or a brushed gourd (Alex Ross, “Outsiders”) | In the course of four movements, this evanescent material acquired mass: droplets of melody and harmony precipitated from the air (Alex Ross, “Outsiders”)

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