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.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January 18, 2016 Issue

I can’t believe I’ve just read a whole article – Tad Friend’s "Holding the T," in this week’s issue – about squash, a sport I’m not even remotely interested in. What held me is Friend’s springy, kinesthetic, exuberant style, e.g.,

He liked to drill afterward. I’d never been big on drills, but with Will I actually preferred them to matches, because the way his warmth and thoughtfulness contracted in competition reminded me uncomfortably of myself. So we traded baby drops and cross-court volleys: the training montage, at last. As I examined my game, there’d be an occasional glint of brilliance—a moment when I lunged just right, held my shot to freeze him, then feathered in a drop to the nick, the delicious spot where the floor and the sidewall join and the ball rolls out dead.


We played a game, just for fun. I got off to a lead, and then Peter began to reel me in, extending the points with a knowing grin. He shaved his rails tight, working me until my hammies quivered. But I was hitting good rails, too, thanks to him, and I converted a reaching-back-in-midair volley to go up, 6–5. Trying to catch me with low kills, he tinned a few, and then I dead-handed a drop shot to the nick. At 10–6, after a long rally, I held a forehand, then crunched a rail into empty space. He gave a little hop of chagrin and cried, “You . . . bugger!”

That “He shaved his rails tight, working me until my hammies quivered” made me smile. Perhaps the piece’s best passage is this non-squash remembrance of youthful joy:

I wear contact lenses then, and one is killing me, so I take it out and cradle it in my palm as we kiss, and with my nearsighted eye I see her soft mouth and glacier-blue eye made enormous, while my corrected eye sees the Chrysler Building and the blazing city beyond, closeup zooming to master shot, the way New York can suddenly open itself to you for a moment, when you’re young.

“Holding the T” proves once again the old adage that almost anything that happens to a person, even a squash player, can be interesting, moving and entertaining if you write about it well enough.

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