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This review is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.


When Harold Ross famously said that The New Yorker would not be edited for 'the old lady in Dubuque' what he really meant was that it would be edited for 'us', an 'us' which has changed only slightly over the last half century. Since World War II, the magazine's tone, especially under omni-editor William Shawn, became perfectly attuned to the sensibility of New York City's hautebourgeois professionals especially as that class moved out into luxurious suburban enclaves called Cos Cob, Greenwich, and Rye. Anal replaced oral as the manic japery of the Algonquin Round Table gave way to golf club barbeques with gin used no less but perhaps more discreetly. Temperamentally and politically unable to celebrate American materialism openly (anyway, the ads took care of that), the magazine's writing evolved into the functional equivalent of its readers' affluence; it was a prose as seamlessly constructed as a Windsor knot, a set of Hogan irons, a Volvo station wagon. Yet it was a smoothness designed in art, as in the life depicted, to hide the fissures running beneath the sunny surfaces of immaculate pools and lawns.

Occasionally rising to genuine tragedy, the predominant tone was ironically wistful as characters discovered that becoming an adult means costs and losses. At their best, New Yorker stories, with gentle astringency, have subverted the American middle class's dependence on appearances. Updating Chekhov, that Volvo in the first paragraph of a New Yorker story will always break down by the end.


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