Barry Bearak begins his story on Jerry Sandusky with a mention of his parents, Art and Evie Sandusky, a couple that ran a community center in Washington, Pa. The watch how the writer turns the story toward the center of one of the biggest stories of the year:
Art Sandusky, a great athlete, was a local legend, but Jerry Sandusky became well known across the country — praised as a defensive mastermind for Penn State’s football team; celebrated as a humanitarian who started a charity for troubled youth; and, as of last week, reviled as an accused child molester in a scandal that brought down Joe Paterno and rendered chaos at this state’s flagship university.
Why’s that great writing? One, because there are no top-shelf words in the paragraph and no attempts at literary heroism. Two, because contrasting the local fame of the father and the national fame and eventual infamy of the son is a tidy package. And three, because packing the three phases of Jerry Sandusky’s life yields a wallop, even for those who are familiar with the story.
And that’s pretty much the way the rest of the Bearak story moves---well, except for his one stab at writerly glory, which is this:
If there are answers to the enigmatic puzzle that is Jerry Sandusky, they lie well beneath the surface here in his birthplace, far more difficult to get at than the mineral-rich sedimentary rock that runs under the Western Pennsylvania soil.
That I can do without. Seems that feature writers are too enamored of tying the themes of their stories to the area’s natural environment. If Sandusky, for instance, had lived near the coast, the formulation would have been:
If there are answers to the enigmatic puzzle that is Jerry Sandusky, they lie well beneath the surface here in his birthplace, far more difficult to discern than the murky tidewater that each day floods this area’s marshes, only to abandon them again.
If Sandusky had lived in a wooded enclave, the treatment would have been:
If there are answers to the enigmatic puzzle that is Jerry Sandusky, they lie well beneath the surface here in his birthplace, far more difficult to make out than a path through the thick forests that hug the community in which he was raised.