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, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016: Talk

Illustration by Tom Bachtell

Here are my favorite “Talk of the Town” pieces of 2016 (with a choice quote from each in brackets):

1. Laura Parker, “Bee’s Knees,” March 21, 2016 (“She dunked the bee in a tiny bottle containing her special blend of ‘bee shampoo’: a few drops of archival soap and deionized water. She held the bottle up to the light and gave it a firm swirl. One of No. 1’s legs fell off. ‘She’s old, she’s tired—she’s falling apart,’ Doering said”).

2. Ian Frazier, “Body Phrases,” August 22, 2016 (“The tactful steps of dancers trying not to disturb were small and beguiling choreographies in themselves. A soft step-step-step-step, head down, with torso bent; then longer quiet strides in the open, toward the elevator up ahead”).

3. Ian Frazier, “Connected,” January 25, 2016 (“By design, the Link has no flat surfaces on which you can leave, say, an almost-empty Pabst bottle in a wrinkled paper bag. These Superman booths still have the little shelf beside the phone and always will. Their small privacy will still vibrate, occasionally, with the old lonesome pay-phone emotions of our former lives. The Links, savvier about human entanglements, will not”).

4. Mark Singer, “Sleight of No Hands,” February 8 & 15, 2016 [“Somehow—Jay’s biography, though it comes as close as any source to explaining the how of how, still leaves a reader at the intersection of belief and disbelief—he did magic (specialty: cups-and-balls), played several instruments (dulcimer, trumpet, flute), trick-shot with pistols, demonstrated exquisite ball control at skittles, danced the hornpipe on his leather-encased stumps, married four times, and sired fourteen children (proof, as Jay noted in Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, of ‘one fully operative appendage’)”]. 

5. Tad Friend, “The Undead,” November 21, 2016 (“ ‘One reason Gabriel was so excited was because he was going to a hotel with her, away from the kids,’ Muldoon said. ‘The Wellington Monument they ride past is by any reckoning a phallic symbol.’ He nudged his wife. ‘You’re on your own with that one,’ Korelitz said”).

6. Tad Friend, “Framing,” September 5, 2016 (“She passed a Caribbean woman who was pushing an old white woman in a wheelchair and bending low to murmur to her charge. The caregiver’s teeth were widely separated, like a baby’s. ‘I love that woman’s teeth!’ Johnson cried. ‘If we weren’t going to get iced coffee I would go find a way to film her.’ As she walked on, she kept turning to look back”).

7. Mark Singer, “Bank Shot,” September 26, 2016 [“When he arrived at Eyebeam, the immediate challenge was to center the logo of American Eagle Savings Bank on the cover of Theories of Business Behavior, by Joseph William McGuire (formerly in the collection of the Cloud County Junior College Library, of Concordia, Kansas)”].

8. Ian Frazier, “Don’t Tread On Me,” October 3, 2016 (“He ordered a decaf espresso and asked the waiter to top it off with Sambuca. A smell of licorice rose”).

9. Tad Friend, “Out of Character,” August 29, 2016 (“Foster, thirty-five, is the character actor’s character actor: his body a grenade, his face the pin”).

10. Eric Lach, “Fire Starter,” January 18, 2016 (“Hickory will make a house smell like a ski lodge. Cherry is prized for the way it crackles and pops in a fireplace”).

Credit: The above illustration, by Tom Bachtell, is from Laura Parker’s “Bee’s Knees” (The New Yorker, March 21, 2016).

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