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.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lizzie Widdicombe's "Happy Together"

Illustration by Harry Campbell
This is just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed Lizzie Widdicombe’s "Happy Together" (The New Yorker, May 16, 2016.) I failed to mention it in my post on the May 16 issue. Now, I’m feeling guilty. The piece reads like a streak. Widdicombe makes writing seem so effortless, even though I know it isn’t – for her or anyone else. For example, take “Happy Together” ’s second paragraph:

First stop: Craigslist, for a place to live. Kennedy was unfamiliar with the city’s neighborhoods, but he’d seen HBO’s “Girls,” and, he said, “I pretty much knew I was going to be in Brooklyn.” He checked out one-bedroom apartments in Williamsburg, where the average monthly rent is around three thousand dollars. Nope. He eventually landed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where a guy named Patrick was subletting a room in his two-bedroom apartment for a thousand and fifty dollars a month.

That “Nope” made me smile. Who owns it? It somehow belongs to both Widdicombe and Kennedy. It’s the journalistic equivalent of fiction’s free indirect speech.

Here’s an even better example: “But, he said, ‘I’d end up going to a bar and just sitting there, talking to a bartender and staring at Twitter.’ A thought surfaced: I’m surrounded by people and things to do, and yet I’m so fucking bored and lonely.” That second sentence is Widdicombe bending her words around Kennedy’s thought.

“Happy Together” has a brisk unostentatious naturalness that I relish. Its blend of modern materials (apps, startups, social media) enacts the new mode of living it describes. It seems to re-create, with extraordinary fidelity, the texture of everyday life in the “sharing economy.” It stoked my appetite for more Widdicombe.

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