A fascinating and sweeping profile of a great magazine captures The New Yorker's last three decades in vivid detail and exposes the truth behind such literary luminaries as Brendan Gill, Calvin Trillin, Hannah Arendt, and Tina Brown, among others.
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Renata Adler's fulminating, fascinating defense and prosecution of her longtime employer The New Yorker may not be the best book ever written on the subject. Brendan Gill's Here at the New Yorker remains the classic, and Nancy Franklin's profile of Katharine White in Life Stories is more graceful and insightful. But Gone is without doubt the hottest (as ex-editor Tina Brown might say) chronicle of the magazine's history: a scathing portrait of a world with the mad logic of Alice's Wonderland and intrigues as viciously intricate as anything in le Carré.
Adler's narrative zooms like a speedboat through decade after decade of controversy. Still, Gone is essentially a heart-shredding account of the fall of a dynasty--that of longtime editor William Shawn, one of the century's crucial journalistic geniuses. "Mr. Shawn was the father," recalls Adler, "Lillian Ross, the mother. The son was Jonathan Schell; the spirit was J.D. Salinger. This family, it seemed to me, was ferociously judgmental." Yet nobody is more ferocious than the author herself, who was taken into the bosom of this family and stomps all its members to smithereens.
According to Adler, she was one of the lucky few invited into the circle of Mr. Shawn's biological clan, not to mention the parallel world of his mistress and "office wife" Lillian Ross. The author is quick to take Ross to task for her own trash-talking memoir of Shawn. Yet Adler is hardly a whit less destructive in Gone, although she wields the shiv with far greater literary skill. Indeed, those who still worship at the late editor's shrine will be shocked at her portrait of Shawn as a cruel despot who nurtured and destroyed talent according to meticulously articulated, infinitely arbitrary, altogether lunatic rules adjudicated by himself alone. Apparently he had three main responses to criticism: silence, lies, and high-handedness cloaked as high-mindedness. Adler rages at Shawn's hypocrisy, citing his refusal to give his son Wallace Shawn a job on the basis of the magazine's "No Nepotism rule." Not only was this rule nonexistent but the editor rubbed salt in the wound by hiring Schell instead, who happened to be the younger Shawn's college roommate.
Adler notes that the writers who bullied the conflict-averse Shawn tended to prosper, while those who revered him withered away, unpublished. Amazingly, she blames literature's loss of Salinger on Shawn: the ever-elusive author of The Catcher in the Rye "said that the reason he chose not to publish the material he had been working on was to spare Mr. Shawn the burden of having to read, and to decide whether to publish, Salinger writing about sex." Space, alas, prevents full comment on all of Adler's red-hot disclosures. Suffice it to say, however, that like a certain Truman Capote piece she insists on trashing, Adler's memoir of her office family is written in cold blood indeed. --Tim AppeloAbout the Author:
Renata Adler has had an unrivaled career as a reporter, novelist, and short story writer; intellectual gadfly; and New Yorker staffer. Educated at Bryn Mawr, Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Yale Law School, she has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, a Woodrow Wilson Scholar, and the film critic of The New York Times. The author of prize-winning short stories, a prize-winning novel (Speedboat), a number of other highly praised books, and countless admired and controversial articles for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, National Review, New Republic, and other publications, she lives in New York.
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