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Oh, the Humanity

New Yorker cover 19 March 2007At the outset, Larissa MacFarquhar's New Yorker profile of anticounterfeiting attorney Harley Lewin is like listening to cocktail party braggadocio.  There are the anecdotes from the startup years, the war stories, a bit of namedropping (from both Lewin's days in "the rock-and-roll business" and his current client roster, including Diane von Furstenberg), and a snappy tagline or two:  "Counterfeiting is more profitable than narcotics, and your partners don't kill you."  In other words, exactly what you'd expect.

This being the New Yorker, however, there's also a bit of existential wistfulness:  "Surrounded as he is by fakes and fradulence, Harley pursues authenticity."  Cue the recollection of hiking the Appalachian Trail during college, and mention of the tallith that six or seven generations of Lewin boys have worn for their bar-mitzvahs. 

And by the end, the characters whom Lewin pursues seem to morph into extras from one of the magazine's bleak, postmodern short stories: 

The man's wife appeared on the landing.  She looked as though she hadn't slept in weeks.  Her hair, dyed a streaky blonde, was a mess, and her face was creased and ravaged.  Harley told her that his client had started a lawsuit.


Then she and her husband stood outside on the porch and each smoked a cigarette.  They didn't speak.  He bounced a Ping-Pong ball.  She stood in her bare feet in flip-flops despite the cold.


[Lewin] caught sight of a photograph of someone he was pretty sure was the wife on her wedding day, and was startled to see that she had been quite beautiful not so long ago.  He thanked the cops, got into his rental car, and headed for the airport.  [END]

Only a writer of New Yorker caliber and sentiments could wring such human pathos from a story about lawyers, cops, and fake handbags.  Film rights, anyone?