Introduction

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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 13, 2017, Issue


Pick of the Issue this week is Jake Halpern’s absorbing “A New Underground Railway,” in which he visits a refugee safe house known as Vive on the east side of Buffalo, talks with some of the migrants staying there, talks with some of the staff, attends a “house meeting” in Vive’s basement cafeteria, meets a young Columbian man named Fernando who is preparing to sneak across the U.S.-Canada border, and drives him to the location (“a corridor of fields surrounded on both sides by thick forest”) where he wants to attempt his crossing. Halpern writes the kind of specific, direct, unadorned prose I relish. For example, here’s his account of driving Fernando to his drop-off point:

We drove on in silence. It was near midnight, and there were no other cars on the road. We approached the point where he wanted to be dropped off. On Google Earth, the fields had looked trimmed, but the ones in front of us were wildly overgrown. There was no moon, so it was impossible to distinguish the fields from the forests on either side.

I stopped in the middle of the road. On the right side, the route north, there was a steep embankment leading down to the fields. Fernando grabbed his backpack and opened his door; in the blackness, the car’s overhead light seemed glaringly bright. I told him to call me when he made it, or if he felt that he was in serious danger. He nodded goodbye, scurried down the embankment, and disappeared into the brambles.

“A New Underground Railway” puts us squarely there with Fernando, Tita, and other asylum-seekers, showing us their desperation. It’s a powerful argument for a more humane, empathetic approach to immigration.    

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