Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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The latest installment of a new column on New Yorker fiction, past and present, by writer and editor Benjamin Chambers.

It occurred to me that it would be fun to do occasional posts on fiction that appeared in The New Yorker 50 years ago. To start off, I simply did a quick scan of The Complete New Yorker (CNY) for fiction published in 1958, and son of a gun, I came up with a winner right away: Michael J. Arlen’s delightful “Are We Losing the Novel Race?” from April 19, 1958. (This particular Arlen, by the way, is not to be confused with his father, the popular Armenian writer mentioned in one of the earliest issues of TNY, who later made the cover of Time.)

“Novel Race” deftly and briefly satirizes domestic fears, post-Sputnik, that America was falling behind the Soviets—in this case, in the length of its novels. And even though I wouldn’t classify the piece as fiction, really, its winning, jaunty tone and well-deserved jab at Ayn Rand make it worth digging up.

In case you’re curious, here are a few other notable writers published in TNY in 1958: John Cheever, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Frank O’Connor, S.J. Perelman, Penelope Mortimer, William Maxwell, Robert Graves, Nadine Gordimer, V.S. Pritchett, Peter Taylor, and Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one, the other one). Familiar names there, definitely.

Some folks I didn’t recognize (though perhaps they were well-known in literary households then): Dean Doner, Kim Yong Ik, Parke Cummings, and Florence Codman. I look forward to digging in and reporting back. In fact, I think I’ll do a similar scan of fiction from 25 years ago, too. Stay tuned.

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