A sentence that grabs you by the heart and hooks you into the narrative is one of the most powerful ways to become one with the pages. It also keeps the reader thinking days later, kind of like a good movie.
That was true for me when I read Cally Carswell’s reported essay, published in August 2018 in High Country News. Carswell’s story is ostensibly about Santa Fe and climate change and drought, but also as much about family, marriage and home. As I came across this particular line, early in the piece, I was suddenly transported inside that old house full of promise. I was in the living room slowing turning in a circle while taking in the lush, evocative descriptions that anchor the story’s setting, completely immersed in its world. I could smell the musty odor of those old drapes, feel their heaviness, and sense the lonely desperation and the quiet promise of a re-do.
Carswell nails the sensory input throughout her essay: sound, sight, taste, smell and feel. The writing is as frighteningly vibrant with compact, powerful detail as it is informative and contemplative. Those details make the reader feel the weight of the experience and then sweep them up in it like a tornado. Sensory-filled details that error on the side of brevity drive not only immersive engagement with the setting, but create memorable touchstones — those creative tensions that leave you pondering the essay’s questions and possibilities days later when you think you’ve already moved on to the next thing in life.