Friday, September 20, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 150: Berton Roueché, The Fog (#121)

Berton Roueché, "The Fog" (1950) from American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau:

I know Berton Roo Rouch Roueché from his medical writing, the popular nonfiction medical mystery stories that he wrote for the New Yorker and elsewhere. So it's not surprising to find that this entry in the American Earth anthology is something of a cross-over: a story (written for the New Yorker, natch) about an environmental anomaly that lead to a widespread medical issue.

The story is: in 1948, in Donora, PA, the usual air pollution from the factories didn't dissipate, largely thanks to an air inversion (according to the studies made soon after). And the air got so bad that 20 people died in three days, while many died or suffered from complications arising from that toxic fog.

Though Roueché ends with the somewhat unsatisfying reports on the event; and though the framing of the story tells us up front what this story is about--it's about a killer fog, right?; Roueché still manages to keep interest by giving us the POV of various people who are on the ground there--and who keep trying to light cigarettes or cigars! From our vantage point, that seems crazy, but from the POV of people who are facing something that they don't know about, well, of course they need something to relax. So that's what I'm taking away here from technique: the multi-POV way that Roueché keeps us embedded in these people's stories while also giving us a broader view.

Random thought: The opening, which pays attention to the Donoran landscape, really reminds me of the war reporting from the Civil Was (and others).

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