Friday, January 24, 2014
January 20, 2014 Issue
Dana Goodyear, writer of some of The New Yorker’s most ravishingly descriptive sentences, including this beauty, “Meanwhile, the streets and courthouses were quiet, as people waited to see if the marriages would be allowed to resume, and bruised purple jacaranda blossoms, rather than wedding confetti, clogged the gutters of Boys Town” (“Down the Aisle,” April 16 & 23, 2010), has broken her style. Her “Death Dust,” in this week’s issue, is written in a plain, point-and-shoot fashion that is almost totally bereft of sensuous detail. “The houses were big and beige, stark blocks against a bright-blue sky” is about as evocative as the piece gets. Nevertheless, its facticity is impressive. It’s about “valley fever,” a disease caused by inhaling the microscopic spores of a soil-dwelling fungus found in the desert South-west – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas. When the wind blows through the San Joaquin Valley it lofts huge clouds of dust into the sky. Breathe in this dust and, to borrow a memorable phrase of Goodyear’s, whoosh, millions of spores go up your nose. How bad is the dust? So bad, Goodyear tells us, that in Antelope Valley, on the southern edge of San Joaquin Valley, people in at least one home started wearing masks. “Sometimes they can’t see each other across the living room.” “Death Dust” may not be as richly descriptive as some of Goodyear’s previous pieces, but it’s thick with dust. By the time I was finished reading it, I could practically taste the dry, deadly stuff. In other words, “Death Dust” is a very effective piece. For this reason, it’s this week’s Pick of the Issue.