Friday, October 15, 2004

This October, as far as the country and its newsstands are concerned, is understandably focused on the upcoming presidential election, two days after Halloween.

Commentary, however, turns its attentions elsewhere, leading this month’s issue with an absolutely wondrous short story by distinguished novelist Mark Helprin. Aptly titled “Perfection,” the story, set in 1956 Brooklyn, melds two cultures — one ancient and the other modern — into, what else? Perfection.

It does manage to factor in one October ritual, though: the World Series, which lends a special topicality to the tale.

Mr. Helprin opens “Perfection” with a paragraph designed to lure any reader to keep reading: “Early in June of 1956, the summer in New York burst forth temperate and bright, the colors deep, the wind promising. This was the beginning of the summer that was to see the culmination of a chain of events that had begun, like everything else, at the beginning of the world, but had started in a practical sense in March of the previous year, when the Saromsker Rebbe opened the wrong drawer.”

As the story progresses, the rebbe sends one of his Hasidic pupils, 14-year-old Roger Reveshze, a Holocaust orphan, on an errand, but not before inadvertently lying to conceal a minor infraction of kosher rules. A minor infraction, perhaps, in the eyes of most people. Yet it’s one that strikes at the very root of young Roger’s beliefs.

This all leads him to listen to a ballgame on the radio in a butcher’s shop before eventually heading to Yankee Stadium. Next, Roger makes the long trek to the Bronx (a place he’s never heard of) after deciding to champion the Yankees. Then the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel enter the scene.

The outcome is both delightful and genuinely serious.

With “Perfection,” Mr. Helprin has put together a magical yet realistic, funny and truly touching tale. Both he and Commentary’s editors can rest assured they’ve really knocked one out of the ballpark.

Even readers who know nothing of Hasidic ways — not to mention baseball — risk being seduced by this story.

• • •

October also happens to be the month of breast-care awareness.

While most women-oriented magazines have devoted at least one feature to the subject, Self has produced a 22-page “bonus handbook” covering just about every conceivable aspect of the disease and its treatment.

It’s an edition every woman should own.

Elsewhere in its October issue, Self offers a Q-and-A with the two major presidential candidates.

Preceding the Q&A is a declaration from Self that boasts of the findings from a recent survey: Readers of the magazine are more likely to vote than the U.S. population in general, according to the study.

• • •

Vogue, that bible of fashionistas, this month features headlines about two election-related stories on its cover: “Why Women Don’t Vote and Why They Should” and “From Crusading Lawyer to VP Candidate, John Edwards Takes On His Toughest Case.”

Senior writer Julia Reed observes, “John Kerry may be the Vietnam vet; John Edwards is the born fighter.”

While we’re on the subject … Runner’s World features Mr. Edwards on its October cover in his blue running shorts. Nice legs.

• • •

The New Criterion, always a worthy read, offers two standout articles in its October issue. The story by Anthony Daniels slams Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s cult following in “The Real Che,” commenting on the film “The Motorcycle Diaries.” The movie, showing nationwide, purports to record Che’s youthful trip around South America on a motorcycle. After investigating several Web sites on Che and discovering 27 varieties of Che T-shirts, Mr. Daniels concludes, “Guevara is not so much an historical figure as a tourist destination.”

However, he does find the film “visually appealing.”

The other interesting article in the New Criterion is its lead piece, by John O’Sullivan, who cleverly works out parallels with the eponymous hero of “Gulliver’s Travels.” The article, titled “Gulliver’s travails: The U.S. in the post-Cold-War world,” compares the Lilliputians (the little folks who tie down Gulliver) with “the international community — that comfortable euphemism for the U.N., the WTO, the ICC, other U.N. agencies, and the massed ranks of NGOs — [that] sought to constrain America’s freedom of action in a web of international laws, regulations, and treaties, such as the Kyoto accords.”

• • •

Vanity Fair is giving readers a special treat in October with its music issue, which features 40 pages of international artists, music icons and a free CD labeled “Vanity Fair’s Hot Tracks.” The sleeve bills the music as a mix of urban and urbane — coupled with rural and plural sounds from veterans and newcomers, the wired and the inspired.

What can I say? The only name I recognized was Loretta Lynn.

• • •

Presumably, you’re looking forward to Thanksgiving. So People has produced Your Diet, an overlapping mini-magazine that you can tear off the cover. A feature titled “Try This Tonight!” provides a shopping list that gives you the contents for a chicken dish and a dessert of roasted pears, complete with directions on the reverse side.

The diet of the month is what you might expect: “Thanksgiving Atkins Style.”

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