Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Belly Up

Filed under: Headline Shooter

An agreeably zany Shouts this week by Larry Doyle. I liked this, after a long list of Sleeperesque medical diagnoses:

First, the good news. Your husband’s portfolio looks great; I can’t believe he got into Apple at 12—pre-split 12. I’d say the prognosis for your long-term financial health is excellent. However, last month your husband dumped seventy-eight thousand dollars’ worth of Clo-Pet, the pet-cloning outfit, two days before it was revealed that Dr. Kalabi was not in fact cloning clients’ beloved companions but instead was creating look-alikes using plastic surgery and transplanting pieces from other pets. Yesterday, the S.E.C. and the I.R.S. swooped in and froze all your husband’s accounts—which may explain his abdominal pain—and then, talk about bad luck, this morning the C.E.O. of your health-insurance carrier fled to Argentina with a transgender dominatrix, owing me literally millions of dollars.

How odd to read this just as I finished the last chapter (which isn't 11, I'm glad to say) of David Denby's American Sucker, and just before that, Arrowsmith, which also concerns snake-oil promoters and their overhurried, underprepared medical researchers. I like Denby's book a lot. At times it's a little on the obsessively numerical side for me, but since his subject is the tech-stock bubble and squeak of 2000-02 and the trap he set for himself inside the bubble, it's perfectly appropriate. I focused on the philosophy, false-hero portraits, and the zigzags of Denby's recorded emotions—if mapped, they'd probably look something like the early-'00s stock market—and learned satisfying facts about the physical workings of the internet, which was a nice surprise.

Denby also makes us feel the agony of selling a many-roomed Upper West Side apartment—he gives us wrenching mini-tours of dear rooms and objects, soon to be lost—a bit more acutely than does Nora Ephron in her own losing-my-apartment story (not online; see Curbed link to gawp at the building you will never live in). At jury duty a few days ago, I was reading aloud Ephron's account of the "key money" and rent that her frantic fellow Apthorpians paid to get and stay in the building; she lists the figures hilariously, with appropriate horror. My co-jurors laughed and laughed, and thought Ephron and all her neighbors were completely insane.

Actually, though, I thought her piece was outrageous, real, and just enough out of control; besides, it's way fun to experience raging apartment/lifestyle envy and schadenfreude simultaneously. In any case, Denby makes the loss of his and Cathleen Schine's apartment an occasion for serious and believable grief, since it was the final big symbol of the end of their marriage. I was in that apartment once (I interviewed Schine in the '90s sometime; I'm a fan), and met Denby for a few minutes. Oh, those big Upper West Side apartments. The loss of a former life for a number of us.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree