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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time.
Oh man.... this has been a long time coming. McKelway's contemporaries and peers A.J.Liebling and Joseph Mitchell have been getting their (deserved) props for a while, now. Finally McKelway is ready to get his, albeit posthumously. I don't yet have this book, but for years I have treasured my two copies (one for loaning) of his long-out-of-print collection "True Tales...
Published on February 23, 2010 by Wild Bill Jones

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag
This book is mostly a collection of columns written by St. Clair McKelway and published in The New Yorker magazine. They are a marvelous collection of sideways looks at America, and most of the stories are marvelous looks at offbeat and unusual occurrences.

=== The Good Stuff ===

* Several of the tales are literally laugh-out-loud funny...
Published 23 months ago by Andy in Washington


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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time., February 23, 2010
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This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
Oh man.... this has been a long time coming. McKelway's contemporaries and peers A.J.Liebling and Joseph Mitchell have been getting their (deserved) props for a while, now. Finally McKelway is ready to get his, albeit posthumously. I don't yet have this book, but for years I have treasured my two copies (one for loaning) of his long-out-of-print collection "True Tales From The Annals Of Crime And Rascality." Anyone who knows that book, or "The Edinburgh Caper," will be dancing in the streets over this publication. McKelway had a deeply strange view of the world, and it seeped through his reports on con-men and misfits. You have to read this stuff. If you are already a fan of Liebling or Mitchell, have amazon overnight you the book. If you haven't read them, either... start here and have some fun.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believable stories about unbelievable characters, March 19, 2010
This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
How good are these essays? Well, I remember reading them in old copies of `The New Yorker' many years ago, that my grandmother had. They increased my fascination of the city and people in it where I spent most of my summers. Here is the real New York. There are stories from the 30's, but they could still be of today, as are the works done in the 40's, 50's and 60's.
Most are stories of New York and the interesting people McKelway profiled, such as; a counterfeiter of $1 bills, and a man who posses as a naval officer among others and is able to meet the president in the White House.
There are a few exceptions to the stories of New York characters; when he was a runaway from home and those done mostly when he was a public relations officer and with them you will see perhaps a different side of Curtis LeMay The quality of the writing allows you to glimpse these people and places even if you have never been near his subjects or New York. McKelway's thoughts and words are extraordinary.
It's a delight to find an author, that as you finish reading their work, you not only regret it ending, but you immediately go to find other creations by them. St. Clair McKelway is one of those authors and this collection of his essays is worth the time to sit and read and absorb his descriptions of life and most of all the characters he depicted.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Annals of Frailty, March 22, 2010
This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
Among the many pleasures of reading The New Yorker are its occasional pieces on the annals of human frailty (and accomplishment). For nearly all of the 1930's. 40's and 50's, The New Yorker's go to guy for many of these reports was St.Clair McKelway. Now Bloomsbury USA has republished 18 of McKelway's more memorable efforts in this 619-page trade paperback edition, "Reporting at Wit's End." It begins with a knowledgeable introduction by Adam Gopnik, one of the magazine's current stars.

First a word about the book's title. McKelway literally found himself at his wit's end more than once and, as a result, under psychiatric care. Two of the longer pieces in the collection, "The Blowing of the Top of Peter Roger Oboe" and "The Edinburgh Caper" are McKelway's own accounts of two memorable occasions when his paranoid imagination got the better of him.

Next, a word about the strengths and weakness of compiling so much choice McKelway in one volume. It is a great treat to discover one of The New Yorker's "Annals" pieces in the Table of Contents of the latest issue. My favorites are those dealing with uncommon criminals, imposters, and other screwballs lurking in the byways of Manhattan. Great treats, but piled one on top of another like a Dagwood sandwich, these articles lose something. My suggestion, don't slog through them over the course of a week or a fortnight, but read one or two at a time and put the book aside until you are ready for another helping.

When you do get to them, you are in for some great treats. Among those I most enjoyed are "Mister 880" and "The Big Little Man from Brooklyn." The subject of the first of the two, an elderly widower, supplemented his modest pension by printing and passing crudely counterfeited one dollar bills. Careful never to pass more than one bill at a time or to bilk the same victim twice, Edward Mueller confounded the U.S. Treasury for ten years and was apprehended only after a fire in his apartment smoked him out. The big little man of the other piece was an imposter par excellence. He passed himself off as what he wasn't, medical doctor, penologist, naval officer, State Department official, you name it, not for monetary gain but for the pleasure he took in the roles he assumed. McKelway, if I not mistaken, not only admired the man, but identified with him and, may have envied the lengths to which his wit took him.

You will also enjoy "Some Fun with the FBI," McKelway's account of Harry Bridges watching the F.B.I. watch him; "Who Is This King of Glory?", the story of Father Devine's miraculous appeal to the thousands who worshipped and supported him in the style to which he quickly became accustomed, and "The Rich Recluse of Herald Square," whose fortune attracted a raft of suitors and their lawyers each hoping for a piece of the action. It will bring to mind Charles Dickens' account of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in "Bleak House."

One final note. The cover price of "Reporting at Wit's End" is $18.00. The current "final offering" sale price of "The Complete New Yorker," the eight disc set that contains, cover to cover, the first 80 years of The New Yorker (including all of pieces in this volume) is $17.95 plus shipping. Trust me, it's a great deal. And so, for that matter, is "Reporting at Wit's End."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag, April 7, 2013
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This book is mostly a collection of columns written by St. Clair McKelway and published in The New Yorker magazine. They are a marvelous collection of sideways looks at America, and most of the stories are marvelous looks at offbeat and unusual occurrences.

=== The Good Stuff ===

* Several of the tales are literally laugh-out-loud funny. Self-proclaimed diplomats and low-value counterfeiters are both amusing and sad tales, but eminently readable. McKelway has a talent for capturing these characters and relating their story. Even though these tales are fifty or more years old, they still stand the test of time and are relevant and enjoyable today.

* Most of the tales are based in New York City, but there are stories from the South Pacific and Europe. Even if you have never lived in NYC, or any big city, the characters and plots are interesting enough to satisfy most any reader.

* McKelway is nothing if not thorough. For every story, we typically meet the character, explore his childhood, and see him in later years including the consequences of his actions. The author errs on the side of more rather than less information and detail.

=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===

* Perhaps the most charitable description of McKelway's writing style is to say that it is the product of a different time. I found many of the stories to be overly detailed, sometimes rambling, and often full of details and diversions not needed to develop the plot. All of the tales seem too long, but a couple cross the line into becoming unreadable. In at least two of the stories, I found myself losing interest and skimming parts of the narrative.

* McKelway is much better at relating 3rd person tales than autobiographical stories. In at least one of the stories, he appears to be delusional and the story becomes a rambling, hard-to-read, and borderline nonsensical story that I ended up mostly skipping after the first 20 pages.

=== Summary ===

The good parts of the book are very good, but the bad parts are equally bad. I ended up powering through the book, but if I knew what the book contained, I would have only read about half the stories. If you like offbeat tales of life's curious characters, there are several in this book. My only advice would be that once you feel a story starting to get boring, repetitive or full of obtuse details, don't be afraid to skim the rest of it. It doesn't get better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reads like short stories, August 27, 2011
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This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
I am really enjoying this book. I borrowed it as an e-book from my library. I liked it so much that when my loan expired, I bought it. I pick it up and read different articles -- not straight through. The articles read like the short stories in anthologies that we read in college lit classes.

The articles all have a story arc that hooks the reader in. After a while you will have to remind yourself that these stories are about real events, not from the imagination of writer; i.e., he was a reporter not an author.

It's a big book, but worth the time to read it. Pick it up and step back in time to another age.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic New Yorker Writing, March 19, 2010
This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
The master of the classic New Yorker character driven long profile, McKelway largely ignored the Park Avenue bluebloods and the silk stocking crowd, and instead plumbed the depths of the great city's underclass, focussing on its unique and singular "rascals" with near affection and an amazing forensic attention to detail.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Wit, November 8, 2010
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This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
For a modern reader (well, for me, anyway), it can take a little while to get into the rhythm of St. Clair McKelway's "Tales from The New Yorker," which are gathered in this 600-page volume under the title Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker.

McKelway typically starts off with a tantalizing situation, often the discovery of a theft or fraud of some sort. Then the story meanders, layering detail upon detail, until we know more than we ever imagined we'd want to know about forgers, or embezzlers, or religious cult followers.

Each of these stories is, as Adam Gopnik describes them in his introduction, a "short, significant parable." But the word "parable" is misleading. At first, unconsciously, I kept waiting for the kind of conclusion we get from a parable--an object lesson or, at least, a "so, therefore..." moment, when the story would connect up to some larger observation about what motivates people to embark on a life of crime or self-delusion. But this sort of generalization is precisely what we don't get. As Gopnik explains it: "The typical magazine `trend' piece says, almost always falsely, `More and more people are acting this way!' The classic McKelway piece says, accurately, `Very, very few people act this way, which is what makes the ones who do so interesting.'"

The overinterpretation of societal trends is hardly a new phenomenon (and if I describe it as a growing one, I'll just be providing an example of it). But it can be hard to find a respite from the ubiquitous summing up, in old and new media alike, of what things signify. As a temporary escape, I enjoyed spending a little time with McKelway's embezzlers and forgers, who don't signify anything, or represent anybody, but themselves.

After a couple of false starts, I picked up the book one evening last summer after watching a classic 1946 film noir, "The Blue Dahlia." I was happy to sustain my noir-ish mood through two short McKelway vignettes, "This Is It, Honey" (1953) and "The Perils of Pearl and Olga" (1946), both set firmly in that heartless, amoral, but often drily humorous world we know from forties noir. In "This Is It, Honey," a man confesses to killing his girlfriend in a failed suicide pact, but we soon realize that something else--something very peculiar--is going on. And in "Pearl and Olga," the naïve Pearl is persuaded to follow Olga onto a subway and "take a picture" of her with a camera concealed in a shoe box--but is the "camera" really a camera?

My appetite whetted, I read a few longer pieces. "The Wily Wilby" gives us an emblematic McKelway character--an embezzler who, according to one of his wives, is "an admirable man except for that one quirk, or whatever it is." In "Mister 880," a 63-year-old man sets about guaranteeing "a modest independence" in his old age by embarking on what McKelway calls a "restrained career as a counterfeiter," specializing in fake one-dollar bills. And in "Who Is This King of Glory?," a profile of the charismatic preacher Father Divine, McKelway--largely steering clear of stereotype and cliché--takes this self-styled "God" straight, on his own terms, letting the reader decide what it all adds up to.

This unemotional stance is typical of "Reporting at Wit's End," and it's probably why, in the end, I was content to read just a sampling of these stories. For McKelway and his whole generation of "New Yorker" writers, says Adam Gopnik, who first encountered these pieces when he was just starting to write for "The New Yorker" himself, "The reformer's rage was as alien to the style as the reactionary's revulsion." Without a commitment to strong emotion, to rage or revulsion, the challenge for this kind of story is to keep it interesting. In this--not always, but certainly at his best--St. Clair McKelway succeeds.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating in-depth articles, no strings attached, May 10, 2010
This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
I really love it when a reporter is able to do an in-depth article that includes volumes of research and subtle details that make you really know the subject, and that is what the New Yorker is famous for. For example, last month they had a very detailed and fascinating article about some Serbian diamond thiefs, the "Pink Panthers". It didn't just cover their crimes, but went on to their upbringing, their techniques, the methods of searching for them, and on and on. Most magazines are not willing to give up the space for such depth.

That's why Reporting at Wit's End "Tales from the New Yorker" by St. Clair McKelway, is such a treat for me. It's a collection of the best articles New Yorker has offered, but in a totally inventive way. It selects feature articles from different decades, the 1930s, 40s, 50s and concludes with two from the 1960s. These aren't famous people biographies or even well-known articles, just well-written articles about subjects fascinating at the time.

One is "Average Cop", a very long study of one of New York's finest, as he goes about his day, from a 1930s issue. Big details and little details are combined to make a complete character study, and it's done uniquely: there's no mockery or subtle elevation of his character. It's just about him. As he is. There's no effort made to push a political agenda or disclose social ills. It's a simple story about a man, and it's fascinating.

From the 1950s, an article called "The Rich Recluse of Herald Square" about the death of an elderly hoarder, and her mysterious life. Little details make it painful and tragic, and yet there's this strange sense of power that this woman and her sister had, in order to put the world in its place (and out of theirs). Little pictures of human kindness abound.

This is a great collection, and one that I personally enjoyed very much. I thought it was interesting to see the changes in writing and social details between the decades discussed. What was considered improper in the 1930s is handled without note in the 1960s. A great supplement to American history for the 20th century.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Literally "At Wit's End", June 6, 2011
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This review is from: Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker (Paperback)
"Reporting At Wit's End" is a compilation of McKelway's articles from "The New Yorker" and contains all but one of the articles in his earler book "True Tales From The Annals of Crime and Rascality". The main additions to that work are two autobiographical pieces "The Blowing of The Top of Peter Roger Oboe" and "The Edinburgh Caper" and they display the author's paranoid schizophrenic mental disorder, clearly, he was at "Wit's End". (The author admits his paranoid schizophrenic tendencies and reveals his several stays at sanatoriums for "nervous break downs".) They are boringly written, in a style of investigator/interrogator questioning the author about his behavior and "Edinburgh" is interminably long, and, other than showing the author's delusional nature, pointless.

While his articles on minor characters with deviant behavior are his forte, one of the longest, and the one written the most recently, "The Big Little Man from Brooklyn" is written in a convoluted style that loses the impact.

As a faithful reader of "The New Yorker" for 62 years, I remember some of McElway's work from their original publication. I enjoyed "True Tales" but had to plod through the longer additional articles in "Reporting".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do People Really Do These Things?, July 4, 2013
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"Reporting at Wit's End" is a wonderful collection of eighteen stories by St Clair McKelway that captures quirks and eccentricities of individuals who just happen to live around New York City from the 1930's through the 1960's but could be living anywhere, anytime around us. The style of writing, a blend of reportage with bemused observation, brings these characters to life while providing entertainment in a form somewhat lost in the media supermarkets of today. Anyone seriously thinking about writing as a career or just personal entertainment needs to read and relish these tales.

This particular collection unexpectedly seems to offer insights on several levels: first is the immediate content of the stories as portraits themselves. My favorites are Father Divine ("King of Glory") for its hysterical deadpan presentation (written during the 1930's); "Mister 880" with its droll ending and "The Wily Wilby" challenging credulity (1940's); "The Rich Recluse of Herald Square" for the cat-and-mouse game between an older woman on her own defying a pack of avaricious lawyers (1950's); finally, "The Big Little Man from Brooklyn" whose jaw-dropping shenanigans put the hero, if you will, on the same level as the popular Mad Men TV series of today.

There is also a second less visible portrayal running through the collection timeline: this is of McKelway himself. While some stories are autobiographical and the content may be less relevant to today's readers, you cannot miss the subtle changes in McKelway himself as time and experience affected him. The style is always entertaining but shifts from bright, curious observation to a more self-reflective tone as the decades pass. In fact, there is a sort of descent into certainly confusion, if not madness, with "The Edinburgh Caper" and its references to spy and intrigue melodramas, popular with the 1960's Cold War preoccupation of many writers, e.g. Fleming and LeCarre, as well as personal references to the "multiple heads" of the author. The epiphany lies in the last portrait of "The Little Big Man from Brooklyn" whose multiple roles can easily be seen as a cipher for McKelway himself.

Not to be overlooked is Adam Gopnik's introduction well worth reading before and after completing the collection. The thoughtful comments frame out the period within which McKelway and his contemporaries at The New Yorker were writing. He has his own shrewd expressions such as observing that McKelway's approach to style was "deceptively simple, not simply deceptive."

One final footnote is the collection title itself: "Reporting at Wit's End." The obvious connection is to not only the nature of the characters portrayed but also McKelway himself. However, there may also be an intentional reference to The New Yorker coterie of writers, the fabled Round Table, led by Alexander Wolcott, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, some of the Marx Brothers and occasionally the publisher Harold Ross, that regularly met during the 1920's and 30's at the Algonquin Hotel. Sometime during the 1940's after the group broke up Wolcott moved to an apartment on Manhattan's East 53rd Street overlooking the East River: the name bestowed on this place, I believe, was "Wit's End."
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Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker
Reporting at Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker by St. Clair McKelway (Paperback - February 16, 2010)
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