The latest issue of New York magazine pushed more buttons than an elevator operator, for good and ill.
Definitely in the 'good' column (albeit sad) is David Edelstein's brief tribute to the late director Robert Altman. There've been many tributes, of course, but we've yet to read any has naggingly heartfelt as this one. Here's how it ends:
"On the Internet last week, I read that Altman had changed American cinema, but I've always been saddened by how little influence his work actually had in an era of wall-to-wall storyboarding and computer-generated imagery. The consolation was that I could always anticipate the next Altman film. I'm already missing it, and the one after that.
Come back, you bastard."
Also interesting in this issue is Keith Gessen's review of the new Pynchon novel "Against the Day." It's one of the few Pynchon reviews we've yet read that's actually intelligent. In fact, it's intelligence fails only once, right here:
"Part of the reason Pynchon is a more important writer than his successors William Vollmann and Richard Powers is that he's politically more radical and even more committed (he can also construct sentences, and sometimes even edit them)"
Considering all the established American literary figures out there who are LEGITIMATELY incompetent (fill in our usual suspects here), it seems a dubious strategy to attack two who certainly aren't. The reason Volmann and especially Powers aren't more politically radical (translation: paranoid crackpot) writers is that it doesn't interest them to be so. That's surely no grounds to criticize them, and claiming they can't put good sentences together is spite raised to the level of delusion.
And speaking of writerly delusion, this same issue also features a piece on Santa Maddalena, a Tuscan writer's 'retreat' owned and presided over by Baronessa Beatrice Monti della Corte von Rezzori. Some of her choicest pet writers were given the choicest work-spot: "the Tower: four stories high, with a view of the valley and a Miro above the antique wooden desk." The piece goes on:
"They came, they flourished, they saw through the long string of intimate, on-the-clock lunches and dinners, regaling Beatrice with their wit. They wrote lovely thank-you notes and referenced the baronessa in their acknowledgements. They asked to be invited back."
By which point we here at Stevereads were vigorously sponging ourselves with disinfectant. This pathetic circus has to do with WRITING? We know many young, unpublished writers yearning to see print, and we can honestly say we wouldn't want them within a hundred yards of such time-wasting nonsense. A view of the valley and a Miro over the antique wooden desk? Lovely ... oh and by the way, how's your feckin prose?
The issue's comedic highlight was definitely Joe Hagan's slow-burn evisceration of Henry Kissinger. It would have done Chirstopher Hitchens proud.
Hagan is given actual face-time with the great man, and he's subjected to Kissinger's particular brand of evasive self-aggrandizement pretty much from the get-go. The result is a sweet, prolonged aria of irritation, a controlled, seething skewering in the grand manner. The whole thing is delectable, but the choicest cut is left for last:
"When I point out that he's hedging again, trying to have it both ways, he smiles and gives me one last spin.
'At the age of 84,' he says, with a twinkle in his eye, 'what great ambitions can I have?'
"Henry Kissinger, ever the revisionist, is 83."
But all was not shits and giggles in the rest of the issue, especially Jonathn Hayes' piece "Bonfire of the Puggle."
The piece is about a young upscale Manhattan couple and the long, heartfelt struggle they go through to recover their lost dog, one of those 'designer' crosses between a beagle and a pug. Before I read it, I was certain my main objection would be to the idea of 'designer' cross-breeds just in general.
Puggles fetch such high prices because they combine the supernatural vitality of beagles with the almost servile amiability of pugs. I thought sure I was going to rail against yuppy wimps who pay top dollar to wiggle out of the tough parts of owning purebreds - pugs have health problems, and beagles do whatever the Hell they want, and that ought to be the end of the matter.
But I was wrong. No, the thing that most irritated me about the piece was the same thing that always irritates me: asshole dog owners.
Because it turns out the REASON for the whole epic search, for all the lost dog posters all over Manhattan, for all the late-night phone calls and reward offers and false leads, the reason for ALL of it, is because when our young couple went on vacation, they took no more extensive precautions to safeguard their little puggle - the living, feeling being in their care - than they did to re-route their junk mail.
They left the dog in the care of neighbors who pretty much immediately allowed the little puggle to slip out a carelessly opened door.
And so, far from the sympathy intended, all I felt was my usual flow of molten rage at asshole humans who treat their dogs like geraniums. Par for the course, here at Stevereads.
Glad the puggle made it back home safe, though. Maybe the young yuppies will be more careful in the future. Unlikely, but maybe.