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Michael Brick | Longreads | September 27, 2016 | 4,136 words

A newspaper journalist’s attempt to correct the record.

Posted inEssays & Criticism, Featured, Nonfiction, Story


A newspaper journalist’s attempt to correct the record.
Fellow firefighters carry the flag-covered coffin of Paul Ruback outside St. Patrick's Church in Newburgh, N.Y. (Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Michael Brick | Longreads | September 2016 | 16 minutes (4,136 words)

In December, two months before cancer killed him, our friend Michael Brick sent a few pals an email.

“I’m entrusting to your care these two unpublished works,” he wrote. “I’m proud of them both. My great hope, of course, is to share them with the world someday.”

One was a manuscript for a fantastical picture book called “Natalie Had a Bicycle” that he had written with his son, John-Henry. He said it had been roundly rejected by every agent in America. That’s a damn shame.

The other was a word doc called, simply, “Ruback.”

It’s a long-in-the-making memoir of the failings of newspaper journalism. Or a newspaper journalist. Or, really, of one tiny story: a “Portraits of Grief” dispatch on the life of a New York firefighter. What Brick had written in 123 words, in an effort to efficiently encapsulate the life of a 50-year-old man who died on Sept. 11, came to haunt him. This piece is his effort to correct the record, and maybe find peace.

“All lives end unfinished,” he writes in the story. How true.

“I don’t have any specific instructions for you,” he wrote to his friends. “You may read them, of course.”

Originally slated for Harper’s September issue, the piece never ran. We’re pleased to share it with the world here.

Ben Montgomery

Continue reading “Ruback”