Calvin Trillin salutes dad in New Yorker, while Life and People salute Onassis

MAGAZINES

June 19, 1994|By Mark Feeney | Mark Feeney,The Boston Globe

This week's best reading sounds as mundane as mundane can get: a Father's Day tribute to a writer's dad. Yet when the writer is Calvin Trillin, the magazine is the New Yorker (June 20), and the father is as witty as the son, the mundane becomes quite marvelous. Abe Trillin, a man so honorable he at times "seemed to approach the loony side of upright," was a stubborn, sweet-tempered grocer who at too-impressionable an age read about Dink Stover at Yale. From that moment on, he wanted his son to end up an Eli. There weren't too many Jewish families in Kansas City that aspired to such things 50 years ago -- there weren't too many Jewish families in Kansas City, period -- but that didn't discourage Abe. Once he saw the dream fulfilled, he even had the pleasure of following up on it. When son was asked to join one of Yale's senior societies, father had the satisfaction of asking, "That's not the one Stover was in, is it?" Anyone who's read Calvin Trillin knows him as a model of clarity, wit and uncommon good sense. Reading about his father, we now can see who the model modeled himself on.

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Thelonious Monk should have been a magazine editor. True, it would have been a great loss for jazz, but any man capable of composing "Jackie-ing" ought to have had no trouble making it in publishing. Four weeks after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' death, she's still dominating the newsstands. Vanity Fair (July) junked its scheduled cover to get Jackie out front. People and Life have special commemorative issues, both of which offer the glamour-puss goods, and then some. A true believer will, of course, already be in possession of both. Those thrifty Jackie-ites who prefer to limit their commemorating to a single outlay of $3.95 should know that while People has mass (more photos and text), Life has class (better layouts and presentation). Beyond that, Life has a history going for it. What Di is for People, Jackie was for Life. The magazine that she chose to float the term "Camelot" in was very much a Kennedy fanzine back in the good old days, and Life's special issue benefits from a sense of institutional memory. From the full-pager of a 9-year-old with scraped knees watching the thoroughbreds at Belmont to the double truck of a happily bad hair day in New York harbor, hopeless adorability abounds.

VF's cover goes the other route with a 1976 Ron Galella candid of Jackie that looks supermarket-tabloid tacky. Inside, Dominick Dunne's text is supermarket-pastry gooey. "The only time," he writes, "I ever actually had a conversation with her was at a lunch party at Mortimer's" -- where else? "I had always longed to meet her. . . . 'Oh, God, don't let me go mute,' I prayed." A lovely train of monosyllables that last sentence is; you can almost hear Robert Goulet singing it. Don't worry: Mr. Dunne found something to say back then. Worse luck, he did this time, too.

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Ken Kesey and W. D. Snodgrass are the "Writers at Work" interviewees in The Paris Review (Spring). Mr. Kesey, the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," had his days as the laureate of LSD immortalized in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." In describing a friend who indulged in hallucinogenic hilarity once too often, Mr. Kesey offers up this winning euphemism: "a casualty of exploration of the synapses." The Clinton speech-writing team might want to contact him. As for Mr. Snodgrass, whose magnum opus is "The Fuhrer Bunker," a cycle of poems about Nazi Germany, he recalls a visit with Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments minister, who after his release from prison lived near the commander of NATO. Speer told Mr. Snodgrass: "If you think that's ironic, you should see what happens when I have lunch with Elie Wiesel in Vienna. Everyone stares."

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