This place matters

This place matters

Friday, May 27, 2011

This is the kind of writer I want to be


Trial by Fire
David Grann
The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky...
Read more at NewYorker.com


Read the article first. I'll wait.
This isn't about the content of the story, even though it's sobering and devastating. Being put to death, being put to death for something one didn't do, would be nothing compared to dying knowing the world believed you murdered your babies.
What this is about is the way the story is written. Crafted, actually. Notice how the first half of the article makes it overwhelmingly obvious that the bastard is guilty as sin? And the second half makes you realize you were a sap for believing the first half. Why didn't I question the evidence about his being Satanic, even though I know allegations of Satanism are almost never true? Why did I trust the eyewitnesses in the assessment of something as abstract as the guy's emotions, knowing how unreliable eyewitnesses can be? Why did I find myself not minding terribly, the idea of his dying, even though I don't believe in the death penalty?
Naturally, if I'm so easily swayed by the first half, maybe I'm just being a sucker in thinking the second half is right. Which is why I try so hard not to make judgments until I look at the raw data. But I can't really see myself understanding the whole crazed glass thing on any sort of real scientific level anytime soon, what with having so deftly avoided all the science that goes into knowing these things all my life.
Do you know how many times a day I curse myself for so skillfully avoiding all that learning stuff? Especially when called upon to do simple math in my head. I guess what I'm saying is do the math. I guess what I'm saying is this article doesn't just report a story or send a message or even necessarily sway one's opinion on the death penalty and all that stuff. It reminds us how delicate our minds are, and how easily we can be swayed when we let somebody else tell us what to think.
This is the kind of writer I want to be.

So, does the fact that I read something in The New Yorker and it didn't sail so cleanly over my head  that I was pretty sure it was just gibberish mean that I've finally made the transition to snooty intellectual?

1 comment:

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Well I read all of that article from beginning to end. Fascinating and yes, artfully written indeed. And quite heartbreaking anyway. I know none of that is the point of your entry but I just wanted to say I read it, it interested me a lot and thank you!

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