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Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from The New Yorker

St. Clair McKelway.
Publisher Bloomsbury  
Format paperback
Product Dimensions 8.25 x 5.5 x 1.6 inches
ISBN 9781608190348
Pages/Publication Date 620/2010
Daedalus Item Code 31921
This item is not available.
"Why does A.J. Liebling remain a vibrant role model for writers while the superb, prolific St. Clair McKelway has been sorely forgotten?" James Wolcott asked this question in a recent review of the Complete New Yorker. Anyone who has read a single paragraph of McKelway's work would struggle to provide an answer. His articles for The New Yorker, penned from the 1930s through the 60s, were defined by their clean language and incomparable wit, by his love of New York's rough edges, and by his affection for the working man (whether that work was come by honestly or not). Longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn described him as a writer with the "lightest of light touches," with a style so striking that "it was too odd to be imitated." The pieces collected here are drawn from two of McKelway's books—True Tales from the Annals of Crime and Rascality (1951) and The Big Little Man from Brooklyn (1969). His subjects are the small players who in their particulars defined life in New York: the junkmen, boxing cornermen, counterfeiters, con artists, fire marshals, priests, detectives, and beat cops.

"A rogue's gallery of shady, quirky, beguiling figures populates this scintillating collection of essays by one of The New Yorker's seldom-sung masters. Writing for the magazine from the 1930s through the 1960s, McKelway specialized in light true crime stories about arsonists, embezzlers, counterfeiters, suspected Communists, and innocent men and the fire investigators, forensic accountants, Secret Service men, clueless FBI agents, and biased cops who pursued them. He's fascinated by procedural, cat-and-mouse games and the sheer artistry of crime for crime's sake; his portrait of serial impostor Stanley Weyman is a gem of motiveless miscreancy, culminating in Weyman's impersonation of the (nonexistent) State Department Naval Liaison Officer in order to introduce one Princess Fatima of Afghanistan to President Harding. In addition to police blotter material, the author pens a cutting profile of the egomaniacal gossip columnist Walter Winchell and recollections of his wartime stint as an air force PR flack (with a rather blithe account of the firebombing of Tokyo). McKelway's deceptively straightforward prose accretes facts, testimony, and court documents into subtle character studies and unobtrusive ruminations on the crooked timber of humanity. His limpid style and wry humor make these pieces as fresh and engaging as the day they appeared."—Publishers Weekly

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