The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Paula Lavigne and Tom Junod, Lex Pryor, Sarah Treleaven, Zack Graham, and Laura Jedeed.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. Untold

Paula Lavigne and Tom Junod | ESPN | April 11th, 2022 | 31,519 words

Even those detached from the world of college sports remember how Penn State’s legendary football program crumbled (at least reputationally) under the weight of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s horrific sexual abuse of young boys. However, as Lavigne and Junod chronicle in this sprawling, compulsively readable investigation, it wasn’t the first time a monster found some measure of protection in the organization. After a young linebacker named Todd Hodne was arrested for rape in 1978, head coach Joe Paterno kicked him off the team; yet, Hodne would go on to strike again and again, enabled in part by the culture of deification that surrounded the Nittany Lions. The story of Hodne — indeed, the story of the women whose lives he disrupted and destroyed over multiple years in multiple states, some of whom broke decades-long silence — spills over the lines of “magazine story” into something altogether different. It’s a testament to survival. To living through atrocity and coming out the other side. And through its expert storytelling, it delivers something that the recent glut of true-crime documentaries and podcasts never could. You won’t forget this one anytime soon. —PR

2. The Hidden and Eternal Spirit of the Great Dismal Swamp

Lex Pryor | The Ringer | March 30th, 2022 | 8,700 words

I grew up two hours south of the Great Dismal Swamp, and I know virtually nothing about it except its name. There’s a reason for that: The Dismal, as it’s known, has long been dismissed by the gatekeepers of American history as a place where history simply doesn’t happen. As Lex Pryor reveals in this elegant, haunting essay, people with ancestral ties to the Dismal are working to change that — to memorialize the slaves who once toiled in the swamp, and the runaways who found refuge in it. “In a nation whose every territory is drenched in overlapping legacies of violence and erasure, the Dismal stands as a most American tangle,” Pryor writes. “It is scarred. And yet it is anointed.” Next time I drive home to see family, I’ll be stopping at the Dismal to pay my respects. —SD

3. The Nurse Imposter

Sarah Treleaven | Maclean’s | April 11th, 2022 | 4,344 words

Nurse, teacher, and hair stylist: At one time, Brigitte Cleroux earned a living at each of these professions without a single qualification to her name. Was it delusion, pure hubris, or something else entirely that forced Cleroux to become a remorseless fraud artist and serial imposter? How is it possible that no one was seriously injured or killed given that Cleroux posed as a nurse for 30 years without proper qualifications or a nursing license? At Maclean’s, Sarah Treleaven attempts to unravel the truth. “Somehow, Cleroux was able to slip past not one, not two, but at least three provincial nursing regulatory systems—and not just once but multiple times. In the aftermath of her arrests, Cleroux’s employers have remained largely silent.” —KS

4. Notes From the Underground

Zack Graham | Astra Magazine | April 6th, 2022 | 2,740 words

A door to a graffiti-covered warehouse in Queens. The relentless thump of techno, sounding like metal parts clanging inside an auto shop, pounding against your chest. Dancers in an indiscriminating darkness, moving their sweaty bodies in ways you never thought possible. These are a few of the sights, sounds, and sensations that Zack Graham recounts from his first descent into the rave underground: a “parallel reality” where people can be themselves, a world that’s subversive and inclusive, a scene that looks nothing like today’s massive, commercialized EDM festivals. I’ve read many versions of this journey — and have written my own — but I never tire of reading them. Those first moments of discovery, of wonder that at times borders on fear, of ecstasy in the wee hours, and then, after you’ve crawled out into the bright daylight, a transformative aftermath that, for some, doesn’t really end. I love writing that explores the mental-physical awareness that creeps up on people as they discover the power and swiftness of their own bodies when dancing, and how Graham describes how he eventually harnesses the otherworldly sounds at a party — “the track unleashed a creature inside me and time disappeared” — and becomes less afraid of this darkness over time. He later encounters the underground rave scene abroad, notably the Freetekno movement in Vienna, and meets partiers who’ve taken “the origins of raving to an extreme.” For these people, there is no underground from which to resurface, no normal world to rejoin after a long night. “This was another level. This was something entirely new,” he writes. For me, it’ll be 25 years this May since my first rave in one of Oakland’s infamous warehouses from the ’90s; though there are of course differences between this scene and the ones that Graham describes, the warm core of the experience is the same. His essay brings back that night for me so clearly, fuzzy edges and all, and those subsequent years of going to parties, finding myself, and being part of a freeing community that operated on a different plane. “Never in my life had I felt that powerful,” Graham writes, “and I haven’t felt that powerful since.” —CLR

5. Too Much Vino and Project Veritas: My Extremely Weird Evening with James O’Keefe

Laura Jedeed | Rolling Stone | February 1st, 2022 | 3,768 words

This story recounts one event — but what an event it was. Laura Jedeed details the launch of James O’Keefe’s latest book, American Muckraker, and her incredulity at what takes place oozes from her words. She describes “a 50-minute musical-theater production dedicated to telling O’Keefe’s story in song, dance, and strobe light.” Jedeed uses the visual prompts on stage (“A telephone repairman. Osama Bin Laden. A suit-and-tie journalist who interviews whistleblowers on YouTube”) to explain in detail the story they refer to, minus the reverence afforded the stage version. Jedeed admits to not thinking much of James O’Keefe’s work — his alt-right group, Project Veritas, attempts to discredit mainstream media and progressive groups — and, while still recognizing the problems with objective journalism, declares this “self-styled anti-elite crusader a lot like his musical theater: flashy, sometimes entertaining, and entirely pretend.” This essay aims to uncover O’Keefe’s end game — something I doubted would be revealed through a book launch — but in fact, the bizarre show O’Keefe dedicates to himself (and stars in) demonstrates a lot: “It isn’t about journalism. It isn’t even about fame. It’s about a boy who loves to dance and wanted to be part of a club that would not have him even as he railed against it.” —CW