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.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Notes on Ian Frazier's "Hogs Wild" - Part IV

Hogs Wild’s title piece is about the wild hog infestation in the American South. Frazier reports that the South is “wild-hog-positive from the Rio Grande in West Texas to the Coast of the Carolinas, with only a few counties still hog-free.” Describing the damage that wild hogs cause, he launches this remarkable construction:

Next question: What do wild hogs do that’s so bad?

Oh, not much. They just eat the eggs of the sea turtle, an endangered species, on barrier islands off the East Coast, and root up rare and diverse species of plants all over, and contribute to the replacement of those plants by weedy, invasive species, and promote erosion, and undermine roadbeds and bridges with their rooting, and push expensive horses away from food stations in pastures in Georgia, and inflict tusk marks on the legs of these horses, and eat eggs of game birds like quail and grouse, and run off game species like deer and wild turkeys, and eat food plots planted specially for those animals, and root up the hurricane levee in Bayou Sauvage, Louisiana, that kept Lake Pontchartrain from flooding the eastern part of New Orleans, and chase a woman in Itasca, Texas, and root up lawns of condominiums in Silicon Valley, and kill lambs and calves, and eat them so thoroughly that no evidence of the attack can be found.

And eat red-cheeked salamanders and short-tailed shrews and red-back voles and other dwellers in the leaf litter in the Great Smoky Mountains, and destroy a yard that had previously won two “Yard of the Month” awards on Robins Air Force Base, in central Georgia, and knock over glass patio tables in suburban Houston, and muddy pristine brook-trout streams by wallowing in them, and play hell with native flora and fauna in Hawaii, and contribute to the near-extinction of the island fox on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California, and root up American Indian historic sites and burial grounds, and root up a replanting of native vegetation along the banks of the Sacramento River, and root up peanut fields in Georgia, and root up sweet-potato fields in Texas, and dig big holes by rooting in wheat fields irrigated by motorized central-pivot irrigation pipes, and, as the nine-hundred-foot-long pipe advances automatically on its wheeled supports, one set of wheels hangs up in a hog-rooted hole, and meanwhile the rest of the pipe keeps on going and begins to pivot around the stuck wheels, and it continues and continues on its hog-altered course until the whole seventy-five-thousand-dollar system is hopelessly pretzeled and ruined.

This audacious, vivid, delightful passage contains a number of Frazier’s signature moves: the humor of that “Oh, not much,” followed by a proliferation of seemingly endless instances of eye-opening, hog-wild destruction; the incredible specificity of the imagery (not just a yard, but a “a yard that had previously won two ‘Yard of the Month’ awards on Robins Air Force Base, in central Georgia”; not just fields, but “wheat fields irrigated by motorized central-pivot irrigation pipes”; the convoy of “ands” (forty of them, no less). What I relish is the way the function of those “ands” changes in the final ten lines from linking examples of wild-hog damage to linking a disastrous sequence of events that starts with wild hogs digging big holes by rooting in wheat fields irrigated by motorized central-pivot irrigation pipes and ends six “ands” later with the whole seventy-five-thousand-dollar irrigation system “hopelessly pretzeled and ruined.” The entire ingenious creation enacts the wildness of its subject.

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