Giving Good Weight (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
“Buckley has a way of tracking down the secret joys of the city,” says J. Anthony Lukas, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and world-class pinball player, after squaring off against his colleague from the New York Times in an explosive pinball match at Circus Circus peepshow emporium on West Forty-second Street. This talent for discovery characterizes John McPhee. In the five essays collected here, which include “The Pinball Philosophy” featuring the Buckley-Lukas shootout, McPhee tracks down the joys hiding in the familiar and reveals them with contagious delight.
These essays are studies of actual events: truck farmers hold an open-air market; journalists play a game of pinball; the scientific community plans a nuclear power plant; eight men take a canoe trip in the Maine woods; a chef works in the kitchen of his roadside inn. Yet in reporting these events, McPhee does not limit himself to assembling an abundance of data, however interesting, and finding the instructive historical and social perspective; he uses the novelist’s techniques of dramatic action, character development, and imagery to give vitality and texture to the stories.
The dramatic shape of each essay emerges from the movement inherent in the event itself. In “Giving Good Weight,” an account of New York City’s outdoor Greenmarket, the action follows the truck farmers from city to country and back to city, alternately building to an urban frenzy and...
(The entire section is 1992 words.)
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