Harper’s Magazine, May 2013
Harper’s Magazine is peopled by idealists. Whether that’s a good thing, of course, is an argument I won’t have here.
Jeff Madrick’s “The Age of Cruelty,” in true progressive fashion, portrays the Reagan Era (1974 to 2008), as the title suggests, a time when parsimony has governed over our obligations to one another as a nation.
The centerpiece report, “The Way Of All Flesh,” by Ted Conover lets us peer deeply into the cattle slaughtering business, including some dozen photos that are art in themselves.
A photo portfolio by Katy Grannan, shows us faces – faces of the more or less dispossessed in our society, and they are as stark as the subject matter.
But my favorite piece is Charles Baxter’s story, “Loyalty.” It’s the story of two scheming nurses (well, one, anyway) who orbit like planets around the sun that is a hapless auto mechanic named Wes. Astrid has talked Corinne into leaving Wes (“…walk out the door and you’ll achieve happiness.”) so that Astrid can move in with the guy. Time rocks on. Astrid and Wes have a child, Lucy, and Wes’ son with Corinne, Jeremy, all but forgets his birth mom. Then Corinne shows up again.
What are the effects of Corrine’s reincarnation on the kids? The usual kiddie confusion. So what’s the story? Baxter seems to want to paint a picture of how difficult it is to have a little bit of life for yourself with so many other people complicating things. And that, in summary, is life in the 21st century.
But then the editors of Harper’s Magazine know this.
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