Election 2016

‘Why’s This So Good?’ No. 104: Michael Brick and an ordinary legal dispute

niemanstoryboard.orgThis is the third of ten stories Storyboard will post from a new collection honoring Michael Brick [see our 5 Questions on the project], each featuring an introduction by a writer who loved his work. Today’s entry is introduced by Chris Jones.

There is something joyously subversive that Michael Brick has managed to write the way he does in American newspapers—major American newspapers—for so long. He abides none of the usual standards of economy or structure or even punctuation. I can imagine one of his editors receiving his copy and thinking, “Didn’t I assign this guy a brief?” I can imagine another hollering across the newsroom, “Hey Brick, have you ever heard of THE FUCKING COMMA!” (If such a bullheaded character were named Mr. Brick in a movie, it would be a little too on the nose. Thankfully real life doesn’t much care about its audience.) But Brick the writer, like Brick the man, isn’t lawless. He follows many rules; they just happen to be his own. This story, about a family’s long fight against an oil company, written in the midst of his own titanic struggle, demonstrates so perfectly the Brick Code: Ordinary people are the most deserving of extraordinary language. His hundreds of subjects over the years have so been given a gift. By fate of newsroom assignment, they won the company of an empathetic man who feels that the people to whom we afford the least notice deserve the most of his. I don’t expect Minerva Ramirez has any notion that a stranger came into her house and took careful measure of her obsession with Tinkerbell and then wrote a story that made his readers want to run through a wall on her behalf. That doesn’t make her, or any of us, any less fortunate for however long we enjoyed Mr. Brick’s attentions. —Chris Jones

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