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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

April 11, 2016 Issue

There’s a scene in Gay Talese’s extraordinary "The Voyeur's Motel," in this week’s issue, that went straight into my collection of unforgettable New Yorker images. The piece is about a man named Gerald Foos, who, in the sixties, bought a motel in Aurora, Colorado, “in order to become its resident voyeur.” He converted the motel’s attic into a viewing platform. In 1980, Foos contacted Talese, suggesting Talese write his story. Talese decided to meet him. He traveled to Aurora, stayed at Foos’s motel (the Manor House Motel), crawled across the carpeted attic catwalk with Foos, looked down through the specially designed ceiling vents, and watched a naked couple having sex. Here’s the scene:

Despite an insistent voice in my head telling me to look away, I continued to observe, bending my head farther down for a closer view. As I did so, I failed to notice that my necktie had slipped down through the slats of the louvred screen and was dangling into the motel room within a few yards of the woman’s head. I realized my carelessness only when Foos grabbed me by the neck and, with his free hand, pulled my tie up through the slats. The couple below saw none of this: the woman’s back was to us, and the man had his eyes closed.

It’s a creepy moment, but also whacky – Hitchcock via Woody Allen. I smiled when I read it. Talese’s viewing of the attic catwalk is crucial to his piece. He says, “If I had not seen the attic viewing platform with my own eyes, I would have found it hard to believe Foos’s account.” I would’ve found it hard to believe, too. Talese’s use of “I” is masterful. It authenticates his narrative.

There are two other excellent articles in this week’s issue – James Lasdun’s "Alone in the Alps and Rachel Aviv’s "The Cost of Caring" – but they’re overshadowed by “The Voyeur’s Motel,” which I think is destined to be some sort of oddball classic. 

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