Introduction

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.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

March 21, 2016 Issue


Here’s a New Yorker that deserves not a review but a party. Among its many pleasures – Maira Kalman’s color-drenched cover (“Spring Forward”), Laura Parker’s delightful Talk story "Bee's Knees" (“She dunked the bee in a tiny bottle containing her special blend of ‘bee shampoo’: a few drops of archival soap and deionized water”), Lizzie Widdicombe’s superb "Barbie Boy" (“At ground level, herds of strange footwear scurried around: silver Adidas sneakers with wings sprouting from the ankles, fuzzy ones with tails and tiger stripes, high-tops with green Teddy bears for tongues”), four excellent reviews (Peter Schjeldahl’s "Laughter and Anger," Dan Chiasson’s "The Tenderness Trap," Jill Lepore’s "After the Fact," and “James Wood’s "Floating Island") – the most piquant, for me, is Judith Thurman’s brilliant "The Empire's New Clothes," a profile of China’s first homegrown master couturier, Guo Pei. Thurman’s lines are as textured as the clothes she describes:

Guo’s Paris début proved to be more of a dessert course than an entrée. There were dresses for a thé dansant, dainty and frosted, in a macaron palette. Sabrina might have worn them. A chiffon poet’s blouse with embroidered cuffs was paired with the only trousers on the runway. Tabards were a theme, gorgeously bejewelled, but they seemed extraneous to the clothes they decorated, and one of them looked like a lobster bib. The first number that Guo sent out, however, announced what she can do when she pulls out all the stops. It was a strapless gown of distressed guipure—with scorched edges, stiffened and gilded—that looked like a giant sea sponge. Salt crystals glistened in its pores. It had the idiosyncratic “hand” of a great artisan.

Normally, I’m allergic to displays of wealth. But Guo’s gown of distressed guipure is something else. A ravishing Pari Dukovic photo of it illustrates Thurman’s piece. I’m glad to have seen it. 

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