Editor’s note: The sentence in our headline is not the One Great Sentence flagged by Storyboard contributor Jill U. Adams. It’s the opening sentence of a profile of Iowa that sets up the sentence Adams really wrote about.
This is sentence number two in a 3000-plus-word-long essay, by Dan Zak of the Washington Post, about the state that holds the first true counting of votes in the American presidential election season. The first sentence? “Iowa is a fairy tale.”
“Somewhere between the crumbling bridges, the meth clinics, the jackknifed tractor trailers, the zombie combines steered by satellite, the putrid purgatories for dinner-bound hogs — somewhere among the wannabe novelists and suicidal farmers and drooling cage fighters sponsored by bargain hotel chains, down rutted byways to giant wind turbines, alongside ditches oozing with nitrates and Busch Light — is a loose menagerie of utopia, where Americans are pleasant, responsible and cooperative, where they pass down their civic duty like a trust fund, where they still have one hand in the fallowing topsoil, the other locked in fellowship with their neighbor, and their eyes on the future of the republic.”
As a writer who tends to write short sentences, I admire the heck out of this spectacularly long construction. It’s a sentence that serves to set theme and accomplishes the job of a nut graf all in one. I admire it for its descriptiveness and unexpected mini-scenes.
But there’s another reason it captures me, someone who reads a lot of political analysis and also grows really, really tired of reading political analysis. What really exhausts me is the constant generalizing about broad swaths of people, such as Michiganders or Iowans. Yes, Iowa is overly white and rural, but if you say that often enough you narrow your field of vision until that’s all it is: A state full of white farmers.
I’m not a farmer, but I can be described as a white suburban woman and I don’t like the voting-bloc narrative that gets used to describe me. I am my own person, thankyouverymuch, with my own thoughts and proclivities and quirks.
So, as primary season launches and political prognostication is running wild with its over-generalizations, I applaud a writer who can quickly and efficiently — and right up top — broadcast that he sees plenty of variety and stark contrasts in this state called Iowa. That he’s not going to pelt me with more stereotypes, but is going to challenge me with real people facing real responsibility.
PS from the editor: We are working with Dan Zak on an annotation of his full Iowa profile. Stay tuned.