Of Dark Moods

2011-11-1

Maybe it was my mood this month, or maybe it was  - as sometimes happens – an off-month for Harper's Magazine, perhaps suffering its own dark mood.  The articles were all to the appropriate point, of course, but not with the unique perspectives I'm used to from Harper's. For example:

There is among their introductory mots this month an essay wondering what the effect of Arab uprisings in the Middle East will be on oil production – and prices. Yawn.

The signature article, "Broken Britain – Nothing is left of the Family Silver," by Ed Vulliamy, begins with the recent British riots and  walks them back to Margaret Thatcher, then the decline of industrial Britain, the ensuing privatization of elements of British life that shouldn't have been privatized, and the growing economic inequality there. Yes, this presages what's now happening in the U.S., but the fact that Vulliamy's article presents little if nothing to counter these social ills embodies the "moral collapse" it bemoans.

I eagerly anticipate the creative nonfiction and the inventive stories Harper's presents each month. And I did lap up its memoir du mois, by Pico Iyer, "From Eden to Eton", but was disappointed by its pedestrian first-person writing, which seemed little interested in casting Iyer's life-snippet in a larger context.

But here's where I have to crow loudly and happily: Whomever sifts through the fiction submittals thrown over the transom did Harper's proud this month. Its fiction piece, "Snake," by Rebecca Evanhoe, is a pearl among lesser literary accretions. Again in first-person, the story's narrator depicts a single, sharp event, salted with just a touch of post-modernism. This sort of story, I think, exemplifies the role of post-modernism in what will be this century's future canon. I would hope that Evanhoe's MFA program doesn't relieve her of her apparent literary balance.

One other bit from Harper's begs notice. I always read the magazine's book reviews, but they invariably seem arcane and overly elite – as if the usual good writing out there is too plebeian to mention. And this month, Larry McMurtry follows suit – until he mentions John Jeremiah Sullivan and his new book, "Pulphead." Sullivan's story apparently inspired McMurtry to put Pulphead into a larger literary context. And by doing so he might've drawn me to into Sullivan's readership.

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