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Within a day of purchasing it, I scarfed down Ian McEwan’s newest novel (novella is possibly more apt), On Chesil Beach. I would explain that it’s about inexperienced British newlyweds thrusting and parrying on their 1962 wedding night, but then devoted New Yorker readers already know this. (Here’s a swell PDF version of the New Yorker excerpt; here’s hoping you have the required fonts.)

I’d quite forgotten that the first chapter of McEwan’s Enduring Love also appeared in The New Yorker, but the Complete New Yorker confirms (May 19, 1997). In his enthusiastic review of Chesil, Emdashes fave Jonathan Lethem proposes sending McEwan’s opening chapters, “like Albert Pujols’s bats,” to the literary equivalent of Cooperstown; I’d wager it’s Enduring Love he is thinking of first and foremost. Point being, The New Yorker has offered first-rate McEwan before. As for Chesil, I’d aver that you have to go back to his also-possibly-novella Black Dogs to find its gemlike equal in McEwan’s oeuvre.

McEwan also pops up in D.T. Max’s fine “Letter from Austin” about the Ransom Archive. Apparently TPTB in Texas slot working writers into various levels akin to blue-chip stocks: we’re told that McEwan is rated as a worthier investment than Martin Amis, David Foster Wallace, and—gasp—J.D. Salinger! (Surely Chesil shores that status up, but have these arbiters read Saturday?)

In any case, last Friday, I caught McNally Robinson’s presentation of Doug Biro’s movie about On Chesil Beach (talk about innovative cross-promotion) at the Two Boots theater. The event started with a dramatic reading of a scene from the book by talented actors Darrell Glasgow and Jessica Grant, a rare treat. After the quite skillful movie, National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman led a rousing discussion about McEwan and Chesil Beach with director Biro and novelists Colum McCann and Kathryn Harrison (New Yorker contributors both).

If you missed that event, you can always go to the screening at Labyrinth Books on Wednesday, June 19. It should be good fun!

Note: For anyone eager for insights into On Chesil Beach, the June 3 edition of the New York Times Book Review podcast features a lively chat with McEwan, in which the author discusses the new book and his (very very) early fondness for the Rolling Stones.

—Martin Schneider

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