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.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 22, 2016 Issue

Pick of the Issue this week is Jill Lepore’s "The Party Crashers," a sharp, sparkling report on the New Hampshire primary. Can political journalism sparkle? Yes, when it contains vivid imagery like this:

The clock on the wall in the cafeteria at Winnacunnet High School, in Hampton, New Hampshire, is mounted behind a wire cage that protects its face from the likeliest weapons (French fries, foam balls) deployed in the uprisings of adolescents (food fights, dodgeball). Or maybe that was to prepare it for politics. Two weeks ago, the day after the Iowa caucuses and one week before the New Hampshire primary, a makeshift stage had been built at the far end of the cafeteria, catercornered from the caged clock. Its backdrop was an American flag; a campaign poster, an “H” with an arrow running through it; and three rows of Granite State citizens, a political Greek chorus positioned behind the lectern, awaiting the candidate. Minutes passed. The slender black hand of the clock ticked and twitched, like an old man tapping and jerking his cane. Hillary Rodham Clinton was running late.

And this:

The instant Clinton began speaking, dozens of arms reached high into the air, all across the room, wielding smartphones. It was like watching a flock of ostriches awaken, the arms their necks, the phones their heads, the red recording buttons their wide, blinking eyes.

And especially this:

I watched Wednesday night’s Democratic Town Hall from inside the Halligan Tavern, an Irish pub housed in an old brick fire station across the street from the Derry Opera House. CNN had reserved the entire restaurant for the press, since there was no room inside the dollhouse-size opera house. CNN played on screens above the bar and on the walls. More than a hundred reporters huddled with their laptops at tables, upstairs and down. A few people followed the response on #DemTownHall. On side tables, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and potato skins were served from platters warmed by cans of Sterno, their blue flames flickering. Power strips rested on every table, like so many centerpieces. The coffee was free. So was the Wi-Fi. The password was the date, 02032016.

Lepore might’ve written that she watched Wednesday night’s Democratic Town Hall from inside the Halligan Tavern and left it at that, but she didn’t. She evokes the bar’s interior with life-giving specificity, and uses it to illustrate her point – the Internet has revolutionized our politics.
Other highlights in this week’s issue: Emma Allen’s inspired “The prodigiously bearded artist Gregory (Stovetop) McKighan dispensed Franzia boxed wine, beer, and soju-based cocktails (there’s a church next door, so no liquor) and the kind of snacks you wish you’d bought at Trader Joe’s (hummus bagel, cheddar pretzels) beneath TVs playing ‘Inland Empire’ and the ‘Cremaster’ cycle,” in her "Bar Tab: Flowers for All Occasions"; and the sublime closing paragraph of Alex Ross’s "Stars and Snow":

At the end, the music seems on the verge of resolving to G major, but an apparent transitional chord proves to be the last, its notes dropping out one by one. Underneath is the noise of paper being scraped on a bass drum—“like walking in the snow,” the composer says. At Carnegie, there was a profound silence, and then the ovation began.

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