Pulp Nonfiction 

The good, the bad, and the ugly: the Enquirer in the act of being itself.

The National Enquirer

Thirty Years of Unforgettable Images

Talk Miramax Books, 253 pp., $45

Never mind for the moment who. The question is what has gotten into America's premier rag, The National Enquirer. Respectability, to judge from the new coffee-table book The National Enquirer and to judge from an essay, contained in that book, on the tabloid's recent stabs at mainstream journalism and its past mastery of paid journalism. But your 45 bucks aren't going for a self-congratulatory essay. They're going for the pictures of celebs and politicos, hangers-on and 15-minute media darlings, somebodies and nobodies caught in the act of being themselves, and the more humiliating, the freakier the photos, the better. The book's layout is good and clean. The book's "unforgettable images" are something else, and let's begin by working our way down (or is it up?):

Bottom line: the piece of patchwork known as Michael Jackson, in brutal, full-color close-up, laying hold of a petrified 7-year-old leukemia patient. Jocelyne Wildenstein, wife of a billionaire art dealer, full-face and demonstrating "the catastrophic results of a 10-year addiction to cosmetic surgery." Wayne Newton alive but from the looks of it embalmed. Bikini-clad ex-"Happy Hooker" Xaviera Hollander hitting the beach at Cellulite City and hitting the scale at 200 pounds. Bryant Gumbel and Matt Lauer in extremis and party to a "man-sized lapdance" courtesy of some transsexual waitresses. A 1987 Brad Pitt looking like Kristy McNichol. A preadolescent Mariah Carey looking like Kristy McNichol. A preadolescent Ben Stiller looking like a butch-version Liz Taylor, circa Butterfield 8. Mug shots of Linda Tripp (1969; the charge: loitering; the look: guilty) and Al Pacino (date unknown; the charge: concealing a weapon; the look: pre-Raphaelite gas-station attendant). In the swim: the "free-wheeling" Brooke Astor, a century old and atop a dolphin, in a full-spread one-on-one with Tom Arnold atop the lovely Roseanne. Charles Manson in 1976, the year of the "dry look," mop clearly in need of professional help, mind clearly beyond professional help. (His jail jumpsuit reads "S WING," or is it "SWING"?) Fun couple of the year, 1994: giantess Anna Nicole Smith cradling 89-year-old hubby and meal ticket Howard Marshall II. Fun couple of the year, 1997: Woody and Soon-Yi lip-locking in the Tuileries. Boxed and ready to ship: a very dead River Phoenix, an equally dead Elvis Presley (a photo that helped sell 6.5 million copies of the Enquirer the week it ran). Dead but unboxed: John Lennon, Steven McQueen, Ted Bundy, and, hiding somewhere under a blanket, what used to be Rock Hudson.

Back to the living and on to the life-altering: historic photos, such as O.J. in his "ugly-ass" Bruno Maglis, Gary Hart and Donna Rice on board (and in the middle of some) Monkey Business. Family shots: the Ramseys positively glowing (the oversized cross hanging from Patsy's neck, literally aglow); a couple of stiff upper lips (emphasis on the stiff): the Prince and Princess of Wales.

But there's one knockout photo here that, truth be told, might just register as art. What's it doing inside the Enquirer ? Giving it some photojournalistic cachet. What's it of? An outfit of Australian bikers called the Findon Skid Kids captured exiting the most beautiful fireball you ever saw. Say you saw it in The National Enquirer. Enquiring minds will want to know. The less curious will wonder over this season's asking price for a tabloid suddenly making out like People, as we know it, Life, as we knew it.

Ascending Peculiarity

Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey

Edited by Karen Wilkin

Harcourt, 273 pp., $35

Call him illustrator, writer, playwright, set-designer, cat-fancier, balletomane, voracious reader, TV junkie, man-about-town when he was in New York City, homebody when he was home on Cape Cod. Depending on the one interviewing him, you can also call him an artful dodger or a real charmer: one part coy closet case, one part pure showoff, for every two parts genuine smarty. Stephen Schiff in a 1992 New Yorker called him a "half bongo-drum beatnik, half fin-de-siècle dandy." You could call him a knowing eccentric of the mink-coat-and-tennis-shoes variety but one who wisely knew when and when not to go on about himself. He is Edward Gorey or was before he died last year after authoring and illustrating such contemporary classics of the sinister as The Curious Sofa, The Hapless Child, The Loathsome Couple, and The Gashlycrumb Tinies. (Still don't recognize him? Check out the opening credits for the Mystery series on PBS.)

Ascending Peculiarity is the appropriately titled collection of interviews with and profiles of Gorey written or broadcast over the past 30 years. There are within these pages serious overlaps, only so many ways for Gorey to trot out his boyhood, his first taking pencil to paper, his habit for years of attending every performance of the New York City Ballet, his admiration for the films of Louis Feuillade. Then there's the matter of his instantly identifiable illustrations, which are only partially gone into here stylistically, psychologically. On a key to his character, though, think on this: a man who likes watching Golden Girls reruns as much as rereading (without ever understanding) Musil's The Man Without Qualities. And in terms of memorable quotes, think on this, which makes Gorey no marginalist but a realist: "I think you should have no expectations and do everything for its own sake. That way you won't be hit in the head quite so frequently." Sound advice from a man of sound mind who had his audience believing he was anything but.

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