An avalanche of Lane, resident wag at The New Yorker—and how enjoyable it is to be buried under it all.
“I am merely stating an argument,” says the critic. “Freedom to disagree is part of the fun.” A review, he continues, should be “a sensory report on the kind of experience into which [moviegoers] will be wading.” And that’s what he gives us: Lane out there sinking his arm up to the pit in some book, film, or personality, returning from the briars and swamps of culture with a reading of the atmospheric conditions. The writing is debonair, even when he sticks in the knife and gives it a twist. The magazine gives him enough room to stretch his legs, but not so much that he doesn’t have to work at compression; deadlines loom, so the impressions are reactive, but don’t loom so closely that he can’t consider his lines of attack, humor, and benediction. It’s a doorstopper of a tome, and so there are bound to be some slow moments. (“James Bond is doing just fine; it is Ian Fleming who needs help”— too much help, it appears, to warrant an explanation.) And Lane occasionally overdoes the humor in pieces like “Astronauts,” where the taglines fall over one another. Almost always, though, he finds the balance of brains to laughs: Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, for example, “wants to be a universal life force who happens to specialize in architecture.” His prose swings with the sheer exuberance of someone having a good time and inviting us along, perhaps to spend some moments with a bunch of hairy gents dressed as nuns caroling, “For here you are, standing there, loving me,” and then to explain just how these participants in a “Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music” are involved in the Proustian principle of memory.
Another guy who knows how to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, thoroughly unpredictable as to whether he’ll administer pain or pleasure.