Nieman Storyboard’s “Why’s This So Good” explores what makes classic narrative nonfiction stories worth reading.
This week: Laurie Hertzel takes a look at Darcy Frey’s “Something’s Got to Give,” which was originally published in The New York Times Magazine in 1996.
“Savage, bug-eyed.” “Frantic bursts of techno-chatter.” “Sucks down coffee.” Casual words, carefully chosen to set a particular scene and a particular jittery mood. Throughout the piece, controllers don’t eat; they “take chow.” They aren’t startled or worried or annoyed – the machines “mess with their heads.” These men look like they’re on the verge of drowning. Their legs pump like pneumatic drills. They fume and squint and scramble and pant. It makes me anxious just to read about them.
Frey’s verbs are powerful and carefully chosen: Huge, passenger-packed jumbo jets barrel up the river and streak across the sky, nervous controllers curse and twitch. They don’t just bite their nails; they “sink their teeth” into their cuticles.