This piece is a good example of how to write about emotional topics without mawkishness or sentimentality. A woman has lost her husband; she must now face the challenges of hanging onto her farm and caring for her young son. The portrayal is at once intimate, companionable and plain: It’s as if a rural community’s practicality has infused the piece. Hebert’s sequencing shows skill; we liked in particular her handling of the scene of the mauling; it is efficient and vivid:

A deputy’s simple notebook sketch captures what they saw.

First is Dan’s hat, then a boot. Across the page, in the ravine, is a sock, another boot. Threads from his T-shirt and jeans.

Susan Crowell, Farm and Dairy’s editor, tells us that Farm and Dairy is a weekly newspaper averaging 150 pages per week. It focuses on rural and farm life, environmental issues and public policies that affect rural communities. It has 33,000 subscribers centered in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, western New York, and West Virginia.

We were interested in the use of narrative at such a small paper. Crowell wrote us that “interestingly, readers don’t know what’s different about the writing, but they’re responding. We’re hearing comments like ‘I believe your paper just keeps getting better, a broader range of articles, stronger writing …’ The following came from a reader after he finished ‘What’s Left Behind’: ‘The story in today’s issue…is without doubt one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. I’m 57 years old and have lived through Vietnam, the death of my first wife and other assorted tragedies. I read just about anything I can get my hands on and I’ve never been touched the way I was while reading that story. The story caught me off guard and I couldn’t put the paper down until I read the entire story twice.’ ”

Read “What’s Left Behind,” by Kristy Hebert

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