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Apart from the title piece itself, this collection of McPhee articles from The New Yorker doesn't really deliver full value. The most interesting, for its subject, is "The Atlantic Generating Station," about a prospective nuclear-power plant floating on an immense hull off the coast of New Jersey; prospectively, too, a magnet and threat to sea life. One man's inspiration that mushroomed, the project (since shelved) enlists the range of McPhee's sympathies and skills, and his peerless knack for signification. Then there's a disarming, if slightly arch, "Talk of the Town" tidbit, "The Pinball Philosophy," about two preeminent players, the Times' Tom Buckley and Pulitzer journalist J. Anthony Lukas ("who, between tilts, does some freelance writing"); there's a characteristic McPhee sortie into the wilds, with a characteristically ill-sorted, well-suited lot of super-woodsmen. And there's the notorious story of "Otto" the pseudonymous chef at an unnamed, out-of-the-way country restaurant who reportedly served McPhee the "twenty or thirty" best meals of his life--and whom New York food writers zealously tracked down and found wanting. (Worse, the usually-meticulous New Yorker had to apologize for an unwarranted slur to four-star restaurant Lutece.) The piece reads like a parody, with its testimonials to the "educated, sensitive, intelligent," dedicated, publicity-shunning proprietors, its 50 pages of magisterals pronouncements on microscopic food topics: a sendup, in short, of the whole self-important food scene. But apparently McPhee means this as seriously as he means us to take, for instance, canoeist John's appraisal of the St. John River ("some flavor of the upper Androscoggin . . . more presence than the Penobscot . . . you have reminiscences of it in the Delaware . . ."). Happily, though, there's also "Giving Good Weight," about New York's flourishing new Greenmarkets--where local farmers, an endangered species, sell fresh produce to deprived cityfolk in a heady atmosphere of banter and beefs, blaring Panasonics and instant friendships that McPhee scripts like a scene from a Robert Altman movie. A mixed bag, then, best in its larger reaches.
Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1979
ISBN: 0374516006
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1979


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