What would happen if you disappeared today? What if no one noticed?

In our latest Notable Narrative, St. Petersburg Times reporter Michael Kruse collects relics of the life of Kathryn Norris, a woman whose mind progressively destroyed her ability to hold a job, to maintain a marriage, to keep friends, and even to talk with her family. Eventually, she cut off contact with the world and died in her car, inside her garage, where she remained for more than a year while her house was sold at foreclosure.

Kruse asks,

How could a woman die a block from the beach, surrounded by her neighbors, and not be found for almost 16 months?

Keeping the more sensational details of Norris’ death and decomposition to a minimum, Kruse threads them through a litany of documentary evidence, some of which he discovered (he told us this week) by wading through a dumpster full of trash. The artifacts he found there and elsewhere tell the story of a woman who had been committed to a psychiatric hospital, who had been involved in lawsuit after lawsuit, who had called police several times about strange cars and people, and whose body was missed by bank foreclosure agents cataloguing the interior of her house on two separate visits. She was present in the world, demanding its attention; yet she had become invisible.

One kind of narrative journalism unspools public events that beg for explanation and interpretation. Another type searches out unknown people and proves their significance. Some of the best stories also tell us something about ourselves, although the revelations are not always flattering.

Here Kruse combines these three traditions by taking a tabloid story and turning it inside out. He hooks us with our desire to know the background on a shocking death, then reconstructs Kathryn Norris’ last years and days, transforming her from a freak who died forgotten to a woman who will be remembered two years too late.

[Pair with the Annotation Tuesday! line-by-line conversation with Kruse on how he reported and wrote the story.]

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