Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

A Detail Worth a Thousand Words

March 7th, 2012 · 3 Comments

I’ve written before about how a single observation can elevate a work of non-fiction into the realm of true art. That is certainly the case with this New York Times dispatch from Whiteclay, Nebraska, a town infamous for providing alcohol to the neighboring Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It’s a solid piece of reporting, for sure, but the various quotes and historical backgrounders all pale in comparison to this description of a Whiteclay garbage heap:

Dozens of people in various states of inebriation wandered along the road. Other men and women were passed out in front of abandoned buildings. A Hank Williams Jr. 45, “I’d Rather Be Gone,” was among the detritus along the road, as well as empty liquor bottles, a copy of “Tabernacle Hymns No. 3,” soiled clothing and a dead puppy.

“…and a dead puppy.” Let that image marinate in your mind for a moment. You needn’t read another word of the story to feel the depths of Whiteclay’s bleakness in your gut.

(Image via Lyric R. Cabral; highly recommend her “Manifest Destiny” series about Whiteclay)


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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Gramsci

    I once drove through Whiteclay and Pine Ridge. The despair and insanity was palpable– it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt. Were I not a modern person I would have said that there were malicious ghosts telling me to get out.

  • Jack El-Hai

    I thought the title of the Hank Williams 45 was the telling detail!

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jack El-Hai: Heh. For some reason I totally glossed over that. Maybe a bit too on the nose?