A Little History
Just the Stats, Man . . . Ma'am
The New Yorker story for 2012 was an average length of 6,000 words (from 1,000 to 12,000). Most writers were male, sixty-eight percent, higher by one percent than last year, in fact, while females comprised the complementary thirty-two percent (yet on par with previous years).
The average writer was fifty—nine years younger than last year’s average. (I did not calculate the age of the writers published posthumously; F. Scott Fitzgerald would now be over 116. Jeez.) Four of the writers were so young or crafty at avoiding Google’s long arm that their ages could not be easily documented—only their gloriously Googled photographs (one way of documenting their youth).
I determined that sixty-two percent of the protagonists/central characters were male, thirty-eight percent, female—allowing for considerably more female protagonists this year. Yet is literary sexism really on the decline?
STRAIGHT AS A NAIL
Ninety-eight percent of the protagonists/central characters were apparently heterosexual and one percent apparently LGBT—even lower than last year’s five percent. Do gays not live and breathe in such rarefied air? Can they not establish a place at the New Yorker table of fiction, when such a large population of writers lives in NYC? Sixty-eight percent of the lead characters were apparently Caucasian, twenty-eight percent “minority” or foreign, and four percent apparently Jewish or Israeli.
One story seemed to be set in the 1910s, two in the 1930s, one in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, five in the 1970s, one each in the 1980s and 1990s, five in the recent aughts, twenty in the current teens (using contextual clues such as contemporary electronic devices to confirm), and as many as eight from an undetermined time period including three with futuristic settings. Others may argue, and they are free to post their own findings.
A majority of the stories were set in the United States: ten in New York, five in something-glorious-about Montana, two in Texas (both are Antonya Nelson’s stories, which are set in that primeval swamp-with-skyscrapers better known as Houston), two in California, and one each in Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Arizona. Six stories were set in the UK, three stories in Israel, two each in Canada and Russia, and one each in France, South America, Switzerland, Haiti, Pakistan, and China. Sixty-four percent of the stories took place in urban or suburban settings, while twenty-eight percent happened in rural or pastoral settings. Six percent seemed to wander into both.
In 2012, Junoz Díaz published three stories in the magazine; T. Coraghessan Boyle, Thomas McGuane, Alice Munro, Antonya Nelson, Jonathan Lethem, and Maile Meloy published two apiece. Not fair, not fair, not fair. Their double-dipping aced out eight other writers.
ART OF LANGUAGE
With regard to language, eighty percent of the writers appeared to use English in a more or less traditional manner. I’m talking about sentences that moved elegantly from one to the next, aided by an expansive vocabulary and an impeccable sense of word choice—with little experimentation or stretching of the language. Eight percent seemed to use experimental or nonstandard English: those who did stretch the language, pulling it in the direction the author wished, using diction indicative of a particular subculture or ethnic group yet doing so without depicting stereotypes. And twelve percent had rather a mixed usage of the traditional and non-traditional.
A TENSE POINT OF VIEW
Twenty-six percent of the writers employed the first-person point of view, while a strong sixty-two percent used the third person, the long-accepted mode for storytelling in our culture. Eight percent used second person almost exclusively throughout their stories. Eighty percent used the past tense, and eighteen percent used the present tense; two percent began in one tense and shifted to a second or third tense throughout.
For 2012, I challenged myself to distill the theme of each story to one word if I could: ALIENATION, thirty-eight percent; LOVE, fourteen percent; LOSS, six percent; ALIENATION OF WAR, EPHEMERAL NATURE OF LIFE, FREEDOM, and SEXUAL MORES, four percent each; MODERN LIFE, FORGIVENESS, ACCEPTANCE, CONQUERING OF NATURE, ALTERNATE REALITIES, DESIRE, FRIENDSHIP & LOYALTY, POVERTY, ATONEMENT, LIFE VS. DEATH, COMING OF AGE, HONOR, and GRIEF, two percent each.
Even more so than last year, I determined that the New Yorker story must definitely be accessible. While many of the magazine’s non-fiction articles are “challenging,” particularly if you’re reading in a field that is not yours, the short stories are not necessarily as complex as those found in top literary magazines. And perhaps that is the point. The editors want their readers to enjoy the fiction, to be entertained by it—as if it were one of their cartoons. Only longer. Like last year, I determined that a New Yorker story must strike the proper balance between urbanity and childish wonder.
Some Nuts and Bolts
In my opinion, the New Yorker style sheet accounts for far too many commas. The editor acts like a teen who just can’t decide how many and where to put them. Only the commas are carefully placed—with the editor setting off every subordinate clause in the second part of a sentence even though it isn’t always needed in order to be clear (most grammar experts offer such a comma as an option). That and other tedious practices make it seem as if many of the stories are written by the same author. I understand it makes for clean reading, but when it comes to fiction, might the writers have a bit more of a say about punctuation?
The right people will never read these words, but I also have a bone to pick with circulation. The hard copy of my New Yorker often arrives a week or even ten days past the cover date! In the old days, I subscribed through the University Subscription Service, and they consistently delivered it the Friday before the cover date, in time to make the cartoon contest deadline. Considering that I now also receive a digital copy that the magazine delivers to my iPhone a week before the cover date (as part of my regular subscription rate), the hard copy is rendered somewhat irrelevant. I love the deeper analysis of articles found in a weekly magazine compared to those found in most newspapers, but receiving the issue as late as three weeks after the events being analyzed have occurred makes it truly irrelevant.
HERE WE GO
Below the reader will find a short analysis of each story ranked in three categories--as well as links to biographical information (if author's name is highlighted in yellow), to the magazine for more information (sometimes the story itself), or to more works by a particular author.