The New Yorker: June 10 & 17, 2013

19 Jun

Double issue! Theme issue! Summer spectacular! I thought about writing this last week. I probably should have. Oh well. The summer fiction issue. “Crimes & Misdemeanors”. I think that works better as a Woody Allen movie than a magazine theme, but whatever. The graphic design in this issue was tops. Black and white, noirish header images for all the main body pieces. That was the best part of the theme. As always, it kind of felt like they were trying to squeeze things in. I’d rather see them pick whatever fiction they thought was interesting. That said, it was mostly very good.

Black and white, silhouette of a woman with an old-timey Lugerish pistol, a guy in shadow, “fiction” in vertical neon letters. Cool.

Summer entertainment preview in Goings On. Good idea, that. I always wish they had more blurbs instead of just lists of stuff. That’s what the internet is for. I suppose maybe actual New York residents might browse it and find things they want to attend, but it just seems hopelessly quaint. To me a lot of the charm of TNY is its history, and I get that this is part of it, but they have photos and color illustrations and a table of contents now. Maybe it’s time to scrap page-long lists of jazz bands.

The highlight of Talk was the piece about a new cab driver’s first day. Money paragraph:

Sozan said that he had come to New York three years ago, after success in the green-card lottery. He had passed his driving test last summer, on the third attempt. His only experience as a driver had been in his driving school’s cars, and during that day’s shift.

Ha. Stereotypes, etc. Pro. Con. Conclusion.

James Surowiecki’s column this week is about how it’s essentially impossible to catch most insider traders. I wish I were rich. I would get so much richer.

Starting off strong with a new story from Dashiell Hammett. An Inch and a Half of Glory. Great title. I say new because as far as I can tell this is the first time it’s been published. That’s a bit of a shock. He’s a famous writer who died more than fifty years ago. Where could this thing have been hiding? It was pretty straightforward. No surprises, but Hammett’s a pretty terrific writer. He got to be a pro at this kind of story by turning them out one after another for pulp detective magazines. Even though this isn’t a detective story. I know a pretty fair amount about Dashiell Hammett. This is because last fall I went on the Dashiell Hammett Tour in San Francisco. It was a good time. Very information-heavy. The guy who leads the tour has been doing it for decades. Highly recommended. I can now point out places where Hammett lived and places where events in The Maltese Falcon took place. I’m practically a Bay Area expert.

Gary Shteyngart is back this week. He had a short theme piece like two weeks ago. Fun little personal story. Maybe I should read one of his longer works. Maybe. I don’t know. I have a lot of other things on my to read list. Maybe I should write book reviews instead of magazine reviews. Maybe I should do a lot of things. I just decided not to stress out about my knowledge or lack of knowledge of the oeuvre of Gary Shteyngart.

Rough Deeds by Annie Proulx was the highlight of the shorter fiction pieces. Hard to pull off a twist ending in a six-page story, but this was perfect. Maybe it works because of the length. In a longer story, with more time to think and put things together, it would probably become pretty obvious. Maybe it should have been obvious as is. Maybe I’m an idiot. I have a digression related to this story. I read it in a coffeeshop in San Francisco. I’d been to the coffeeshop before. It’s a good place. The night before, I was browsing the neighborhood on Yelp and read the reviews of this coffeeshop. One was by a truly terrible person named John L. I’m reproducing his one-star review here in full:

A friend of mine had a few hours to kill and stopped by Garden House Cafe to hang out and use Wifi.

After buying a couple drinks, sandwich, and sweet cake, we sat streaming a movie.

After almost 90 minutes an older waitress/owner came up to us and said our laptop was too loud and was distracting to other people trying to study/concentrate. At the time the laptop was just barely above whisper and both my friend and I could barely hear it even while leaning in, especially over the crappy music which alternated between classical and other forgettable nonsense as well as the same waitress/owner talking loudly to some other patrons. We finished watching the movie in just 20 more minutes and left.

The food there was nothing special and the atmosphere was a lot to be desired. It was quite loud despite the place being almost empty.

I would have thought the older lady would have been nicer to some new patrons but I guess the fact that the place was practically empty during Saturday afternoon was fine with her.

No problem, there are many more cafes closer to my house.

Is this guy serious? What is wrong with people? Am I the only one who’s outraged? Is this kind of behavior normal? Is this just another example of San Francisco being overrun with people who totally lack self-awareness or humility or any other positive personality trait? Does this guy stream movies without headphones in coffeeshops frequently? Has he never been punched in the face? Jesus.

I couldn’t really get into the Cormac McCarthy screenplay thing. I’m also reading Blood Meridian right now. I can’t really get into that either. Am I missing something? Maybe I’ll try one of his books set in the present instead of the Old West, but I don’t think he’s for me. I remember Wes Anderson once described Eli Cash, in The Royal Tenenbaums, as “a stoned Cormac McCarthy.”* That’s my favorite thing about him. McCarthy, not Anderson.

*Or something like that. I’m not going to try and look it up or find it on a DVD commentary or whatever. I don’t know how actual journalists manage to do this kind of thing. Is it all interns who do the actual work like this? I bet it is. Man, that would be a good topic for me to write an angry screed about.

I really enjoyed the long fiction piece by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m not that familiar with her work. She did have a story on This American Life that I recall. That was also very good. Two A-plus stories. I’m going to do some further investigation into the work of Ms. Lahiri.

Walter Kirn had a personal narrative about his friendship with noted fraudster “Clark Rockefeller”. Kind of amazing. If you’re not familiar with this fake Rockefeller, I’d recommend this pretty crazy Vanity Fair piece that is now also a book and apparently will soon be a movie. I think a good lesson is: if you’re going to invent a fake identity, go big. This guy claimed to be a Rockefeller, claimed to have the number for the President’s private line, claimed to be friends with JD Salinger, claimed to own original Rothkos and Motherwells, etc. And he managed it for like fifteen years. Sure, now he’s in jail for murder, but it sounds like he had a pretty fun time for awhile.

Theme pieces
TNY always brings the A-list. Roger Angell and Joyce Carol Oates are the heavy hitters this week. They also had George Pelecanos, maybe best known for his writing on The Wire. Although he came off as sort of a dick in his memoiry thing. The other three were highly entertaining. Special mention to David Peace, who I hadn’t heard of. He had a little story about a British serial killer that was unexpected and kind of sweet in a weird way. Mr. Angell and Ms. Oates brought it, as expected.

The noteworthy piece here was Adam Gopnick on Florida-based crime fiction. He makes an interesting case that the locus of the kind of seedy environments that built the world of noir fiction have moved from the West Coast to Florida. Interesting. More goofy and ridiculous than dark and sinister. It’s a compelling argument, which brought to mind my favorite superhero, Florida Man, and the hilarious twitter feed featuring him. I might check out some Carl Hiaasen and see what this Florida business is all about.

There’s an incidental thing I want to talk about. Here’s the introduction to the article:

The bloodlines of genre fiction tend to be cleaner than those of the more self-consciously literary kind. There’s always a measure of uncertainty, in the glossier precincts, about who owes what to whom; among the three big literary Johns, who can say exactly what Updike owes to Cheever, or what either owes to O’Hara? But the line in the hardboiled, California-noir thriller that goes from Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain to Raymond Chandler, and on to Ross Macdonald and James Ellroy, runs open and unapologetically from author to author, like the dharma transmission passed from one Zen master to the next.

A couple things. 1. How do you think John Irving feels about this? It kind of feels like a slap in the face. Even though I don’t think he’s quite on the same level as the three “big” Johns. He’s probably just as famous as them. And does Jonathan Franzen count? is Jonathan not close enough to John? 2. All three of those Johns made their name publishing stories in TNY. I don’t think they used in-house examples on purpose, but it’s just a small reminder of how influential this magazine has been in the literary world these last 80-odd years.

Mostly blah. The elephant one by Farley Katz on page 79 is the best.

Caption contest entry
Joan, quit complaining. We have to give him someone, and you’re the prettiest.

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