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, April 28, 2016

April 25, 2016 Issue

I’ve commented before on the collagist aspect of James Wood’s art – how he selects details from the novel he’s reviewing and assembles them in gorgeous Rauschenbergian constructions (see here). His "Stranger in Our Midst" a review of Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs, in this week’s issue, contains a beauty:

O’Brien sees banal details and lingers over them, viewing them in the shadow of warfare and forced emigration, so that they are no longer banal. She tells us how quickly the workers leave the building when they are released: “In the mornings, after they had clocked out, they ran, recklessly, they ran as if they were fleeing catastrophes. The fear that governed their whole lives was now compressed into this urgency to catch a bus or a train to allow a husband or a mother or a cousin to go to work.” Fidelma is lonely in London, where the Thames has a strange “toffee colour, not like the silvery rivers of home.” Her fellow-workers, like her, long for home; like her, they cannot return. But they carry memories, “and the essence of their first place, known only to them.” (A beautiful phrase!) For Fidelma, Ireland is now becoming a memory, “such a small memory, young grass with the morning sun on it and the night’s dew, so that light and water interplayed as in a prism and the top leaves of an ash tree had a halo of diamond from the rain, the surrounding green so safe, so ample, so all-encompassing.”

Speaking of details, there are some delightful ones in this week’s “Goings On About Town”: a Studio Job lamp “whose base is a golden banana peel” ("Art: Museum of Arts and Design"); Ericka Beckman’s video “Hiatus,” in which “a cyber-heroine battles shock-haired scarecrows and buzzing electrical towers, only to be foiled by a Texas oilman with skin the color of Vishnu” ("Art: Ericka Beckman"); Joan Crawford’s “ferocious stillness and blowtorch stare” (Richard Brody, "Johnny Guitar"); Sofrito’s vanilla flan that comes “delightfully topped with lip-shaped sprinkles” (Nicholas Niarchos, "Tables For Two"); Ocean’s 8’s “eight-ball-embedded floor” (Colin Stokes, "Bar Tab").

My favorite sentence in this week’s issue? It’s a toss-up between Colin Stokes’s “In the cavernous hall, pool aficionados assembled cues that had been brought lovingly from home in leather cases, and a couple shared kisses and onion rings” ("Bar Tab: Ocean's 8") and James Wood’s “O’Brien tumbles into her characters’ voices; the prose has a life-filled, unstopping locomotion: ‘her little Mini, her chariot of freedom’ ” ("Stranger in Our Midst").

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