The humanity of “low skill” workers, a child disappearance intertwined with a cult, the resident snow monkeys of Southern Texas, a multi-million dollar mail-order fraud, and the disappointing decline of fish-and-chip shops. These are our editors’ favorite stories from the week.
Lana Hall | Hazlitt | July 12, 2023 | 3,210 words
As a sex worker in a Toronto massage parlor, Lana Hall earned her living from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., three to six shifts per week. In preparing for a particularly repellant final customer one night, Hall is humbled, not by the man she must shower with, but by the kindness of a fellow worker who curls her hair before the dreaded appointment. Reader, this small gift cut me so deeply that I found myself stifling sobs. “I felt so much care in that moment I could barely breathe,” Hall writes, “and it occurred to me that I’d never had a woman, before or since, handle my hair so tenderly.” As Hall recounts how the powerful, and society in general, look down on people with “low skill” jobs, she deftly reminds us that those who must work the wee hours serving the “incessant hungers of others” are often the most adept at conflict deflection and resolution—ironically the skills so often highly prized by those who work in sunlit ivory towers. Hall imparts with grace and nuance that the humanity on offer from those in low vs. high skill occupations is often as stark as night and day. —KS
Benjamin Hale | Harper’s | July 17, 2023 | 14,367 words
As soon as I finished this story, I sent it to two other magazine editors, both of them parents. Trigger warning for child murder, I told them, but you must read this. It’s been a long time since a piece surprised me the way this one did. Except I didn’t read it—I devoured it. Benjamin Hale’s delivery of a yarn involving a missing child, a cult, and perhaps a ghost in the wilderness of Arkansas is so adept that I didn’t get up, didn’t idly check social media, didn’t do anything while I was reading all 14,000 words of it. Hale plots a storyline that seems straight as an arrow then quietly nudges the reader to another path, then another. The twists and revelations are sublime but never showy. I don’t want to say anything else, to risk giving too much away. Suffice it to say, with that trigger warning in mind, you must read this. —SD
Sarah Bird | Texas Monthly | July 23, 2023 | 5,493 words
In 1972, Pelka—the 10-year-old snow monkey at the heart of Sarah Bird’s story—was shunted from her sanctuary outside of Kyoto, Japan, to a ranch in Texas. Too much temple pooping had led to the banishment of Pelka’s whole troop, and 150 monkeys swapped snowy peaks for sun-parched dirt. When Sarah Bird heard of her new Texan neighbors, she rushed to meet them; after all, they shared a history—Bird also grew up in Japan before relocating to Texas. Following a bonding moment with a doped-up Pelka, the snow monkeys become an unexpected force in Bird’s life, but, over the years, she loses track of them. Setting out to find them again, Bird contemplates a clichéd reunion, but the reality is far more nuanced. Her link adds an extra layer to the already fascinating story of this bizarre relocation and subsequent decades of supporting snow monkeys in Texas. Yes, Pelka now has generations of Texan relatives. —CW
Rachel Browne | The Walrus | July 26, 2023 | 5,264 words
I’m a sucker for stories about scams and grifters. As soon as I saw it, I was powerless to resist Rachel Browne’s investigative feature on copywriting con artist Patrice Runner. As a Montréal teen, Runner was enamored with the provocative copy of mail-order ads, especially those that resembled hand-written notes. Imagine being so persuasive in print that people mailed you money for winning lottery numbers and the secrets to luck and wealth. Over the years, over a million Canadians succumbed to Runner’s charm, earning him $200 million. Reporter Rachel Browne sent a hand-written letter to Runner, asking to interview him about his work with Maria Duval, an amateur psychic who claimed to have found missing persons and predicted election and stock market results. Runner licensed Duval’s likeness in Canada and the US, sending countless hand-written direct mail come-ons for astrological readings, lottery numbers, and fortune telling. On the proceeds, Runner led a lavish lifestyle that included heli-skiing and private schools for his kids where tuition was $100,000 a year. Browne expertly unravels Runner’s shady schemes and shell companies, distilling his case into a fascinating moral question: Is deception itself a crime? If you ask Runner’s many many victims they might say they’re more vulnerable than gullible, less cautious than curious. —KS
Tom Lamont | The Guardian | July 20, 2023 | 5,276 words
I first came to this piece because of my own love of fish-and-chips, but also because I knew I’d find a parade of aggressively British-sounding eatery names. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. But I also found something unexpectedly tragic, and unexpectedly resolute. Over the course of a year, Tom Lamont frequented “chippies” around the U.K., concentrating on Scotland’s East Neuk of Fife—a coastal area jutting out of the land between Edinburgh and Dundee, and by many accounts the world’s preeminent purveyor of the meal. When he began, supply-chain issues and soaring energy prices had already driven the industry to the edge of disaster. By the time his year was up, things had gotten markedly worse. Yet, Lamont’s elegy is suffused with love: his love for the “paradoxical richness without grossness” that marks a great fish and chips meal; villagers’ love for the stalwart shops and shopkeepers in their communities; even the friers’ and fishers’ love for the tradition. “Fishing is a serious matter here,” Lamont writes. “Fish and chips is a serious meal.” And as shop after shop closes, from the Lowford Fish Bar to Jack Spratt’s Superior to Jackson’s Chippie, each meal takes on even more weight. It’s a microcosm. A metaphor. And Lamont’s piece unpacks it all deftly, making sure you can take it away and digest it on your own time. Hopefully by the seaside. —PR
Get ready, it’s time to recognize the piece that our readers loved the most this week.
Luc Rinaldi | Maclean’s | July 13, 2023 | 6,259 words
As a gamer himself, Luc Rinaldi brings personal insight into his reporting on the families bringing a lawsuit against Fortnite’s developer, Epic Games. A deftly woven mix of liability law, Fortnite’s history, and a powerful case study. —CW