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The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup:
Susan Orlean, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Orchid Thief, has always been drawn to the extraordinary in the ordinary, so when her Esquire editor asked her to profile the child actor Macaulay Culkin using the title "The American Man at Age Ten," she insisted instead on writing about a "typical" kid. The result--one of the 20 profiles drawn from magazines such as Esquire, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone for this collection--is a vivid window into the life of an ordinary and endearing boy from New Jersey who grapples with girls, environmental destruction, and the magical childhood landscape "that erodes from memory a little bit every day." Orlean has two tricks up her sleeve that make her profiles irresistible. First, she's got a mean hook. Take this lead: "Of all the guys who are standing around bus shelters in Manhattan dressed in nothing but their underpants, Marky Mark is undeniably the most polite." Second, she has an uncanny way of drawing her subjects. Bill Blass "is a virtuoso of the high-pitched eyebrow and the fortissimo gasp," while a boxer (the dog kind) wears "the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a small-town mayor."
Orlean is a New Yorker herself, and most of her subjects hail from the Big Apple, including such unique personas as a real estate broker who can describe the inside of almost any apartment in the city ("Walking down a Manhattan street with her is a paranormal experience"); Nat, the new tailor at Manhattan Valet; her hairdresser; the city's most popular clown; an Ashanti king who drives a taxi; and the owner of the only buttons-only store in America. The author is keenly observant and always tries to walk in her subject's shoes, even when it's a show dog ("If I were a bitch, I'd be in love with Biff Truesdale"). When she does tackle the rich and famous, she uses these same talents to create portraits so intimate and zesty they're unlike any other. Orlean writes that her only justification for choosing a story is that she cares about it, and it shows. Her fondness for her subjects rubs off as she draws us into the tight and exquisite focus of their mundane and fascinating lives. --Lesley Reed [via]