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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

September 19, 2016, Issue

Of the many pleasures in this week’s issue – Richard Brody on Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (“Along the way, the film offers verse by Christina Rossetti; a record of Caruso; Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony; souped-up cars, and a man crushed under one; a woman on a meat hook; a whiff of narcotics; a primordial answering machine; bloody street fights; and nuclear catastrophe”), Becky Cooper’s “Lunch à la Mode” (“The real star, though, is the hot sauce. It’s the marigold color of a Buddhist monk’s cloak, with a complex bitter heat, and it should be spooned onto everything”), Colin Stokes’s “Bar Tab: King Tai” [“The #5 (Barr Hill gin, Cocchi Americano, Dimmi, grapefruit bitters) is a caustic confusion, but the #1 (Yaguara Cachaça Branca, apricot, Licor 43, grated nutmeg) was described by a drinker as ‘lovely stuff’ ”], Rebecca Mead’s “Costume Drama” (“The seductiveness of Michele’s vision was signalled by a barely subdued clamor among the guests over the emerald seat cushions, which were to be taken home as gifts”), Nick Paumgarten’s “Wild Man” (“Guilt and high principle mutate into marketing: this was the Patagonia feedback loop, on high screech”) – the most sheerly enjoyable, for me, is Ian Frazier’s “Patina,” an inspired reflection on the irreproducible color of the Statute of Liberty’s patina (“that elusive, flickering, familiar, sea-polished shade of copper-green”). There’s poetry in “Patina” (“When you have Statue of Liberty green on the brain, you see it all around you, especially on infrastructure. Being aware of the color somehow makes the city’s bindings and conduits and linkages stand out as if they’d been injected with radioactive dye. When you look for the color, the city becomes an electric train set you’re assembling with your eyes”) and lots of fascinating Statue of Liberty facts (e.g., The Statue’s copper is “only three-thirty-seconds of an inch thick and unusually pure”). “Patina” is this week’s Pick of the Issue.

Postscript: Another pleasurable piece in this week’s New Yorker is Jane Kramer’s “Eat, Memory,” a review of Paul Freedman’s Ten Restaurants That Changed America. Kramer writes delicious long lines. For example:

Reading Paul Freedman about America, stalking myself through the taste of meals at eight of his ten restaurants, each sampled for different reasons at different moments in my life, I began to draw the outlines of a world I shared with other people, people more or less like me, and to wonder what “like me” meant when it came to expectations of inclusion, of common flash points of reference, of understanding and participating in the coded language of what we eat and how it is prepared and who is sitting at all those tables around us.

I relished Kramer’s recollections about eating in Le Pavillon, Antoine’s, Sylvia’s, Shrafft’s, the Grill Room, and Chez Panisse – all on Freedman’s list. But I wish she’d provided at least one extended quotation from Freedman’s book to help me decide whether I’d enjoy reading it. John Updike, in his “A Poetics of Book Reviewing” (included in his 2011 collection Higher Gossip), says, “Give enough direct quotation – at least one extended passage – of the book’s prose so the reviewer’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.”

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