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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 28, 2016, Issue

I find flashbacks annoying. They impede narrative momentum, scramble time frames, disrupt cause and effect. The worst, for me, are the jarring, disjointed Blue Valentine variety in which time jumps without notice. Those are the flashbacks that, as Anthony Lane says, in his review of Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, in this week’s issue, “take some getting used to.” Lane describes them perfectly:

They’re not announced in any way. They don’t look different from what’s happening now. They just cut right in, like a car pulling in front of you, and you have to brake for a second and take stock. Near the start of the film, for instance, Lee learns from a phone call that Joe has suffered cardiac failure, in Manchester; by the time that Lee has driven from Boston to the coast, his brother has died. Suddenly, we flick to Joe sitting up in bed, in hospital, being given a diagnosis. The past is upon us, without ado, and we have the curious sensation of watching a living person in the immediate aftermath of his death. The is and the was are looped and tied together.

Lane isn’t irked by Lonergan’s use of flashback. He finds meaning in it. He makes sense of Lonergan’s art. This is instructive. I must learn to be more tolerant of flashbacks. Manchester by the Sea will be a good test.

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