|Photoillustration by John Ritter (from Nicholas Schmidle's "Getting bin Laden")|
George Saunders, in his Introduction to A Grace Paley Reader (2017), says of Paley, "Mere straightforward representation is not her game." That “mere” irks me. It condescends to straightforward representation, i.e., description of reality as it actually is, treating it as a lesser art than fiction. I disagree. There’s nothing “mere” about great reporting pieces such as William Finnegan’s “Silver or Lead” (The New Yorker, May 31, 2010), Nicholas Schmidle’s “Getting bin Laden” (The New Yorker, August 8, 2011), Jill Lepore’s “Battleground America” (The New Yorker, April 23, 2012), Richard Preston’s “The Ebola Wars” (The New Yorker, October 27, 2014), and Luke Mogelson’s “The Avengers of Mosul” (The New Yorker, February 6, 2017), to name five that quickly come to mind. These extraordinary pieces, in their detail, structure, imagery, rhythm, clarity, and texture, are as artful as any fiction, perhaps more so, because, unlike, say, Saunders’s cartoonish fictions, which distort reality, they report it as accurately as possible.