Monday, April 15, 2013

Orlean/ LeBlanc

LeBlanc immersed herself in an overwhelming sense in this reportage, and immediately the questions of bias, safety, and closeness to Trina were brought to my mind. Her complete immersion in the life of Trina reminded me of the novel I read by Sudhir Venkatesh, “Gang Leader for a Day”, which was an anthropological look into the life of a gang leader in Chicago. The author Sudhir becomes friends with JT (said gang leader) during his research, and eventually explores the power struggles of a gang through his connection with JT, gaining access to previously hidden aspects of gang life. The similarity between the anthropological research Sudhir does and the journalistic research of LeBlanc was visible in the immersion into a dangerous or questionable situation: both involving drugs/ prostitution/ otherwise sketchy situations. Additionally, both authors allow their personal opinions and experiences to seep into the text, also LeBlanc used “I” significantly less than Sudhir. The comparison between these types of research would be interesting, due to the apparent similarities in immersion research in two different fields.
At certain points it seems that LeBlanc is connecting herself to Trina, and I wondered why that connection was initially made: “Our shared attributes would blind me, delude me into the sort of sturdy plan of action that seems possible when you are the person you are trying to help share common ground.” Throughout the essay LeBlanc makes continued connections between herself and Trina, however the idea of trying to help her is not explained. Why is she helping her? I am curious about this connection and if it influenced LeBlanc’s writing about Trina. This also opens the questions of what sort of relationship is appropriate between narrator and subject, and I would like to talk about this in class during story proposals.

In a similar fashion as in LeBlanc’s story, Orlean is barely present at all in the story about Colin. In LeBlanc’s, as previously mentioned, I craved slightly more attention to the narrator. Because of the references to actions, conversations, and experiences the subject and the narrator were having together, the LeBlanc story felt more open regarding the role of the narrator. In contrast, Orlean is barely present in the life of Colin, although prompting statements are made at several points.

One of the major differences I felt between the two stories was the urgency at which I read the piece. In LeBlanc’s, I felt that the dangerous story of Trina, a drug addict, drove me to feel the need to read the piece in one sitting. Reading Orlean’s story about Colin, I put the book down several times, not out of boredom, rather out of a desire to prolong and relax during the reading. Additionally, I was struck by how two very different stories captured me in a similar way. In both pieces, the authors painted a realistic picture of Colin and Trina, and for the time that it took me to read the pieces, I felt invested and involved in their lives.


  1. Laurel,

    The connection you made between LeBlanc's reporting style and anthropological research is very interesting. When I read the piece, I too was struck by LeBlanc's complete immersion in to Trina's life and the situations and environments she exposed herself to. I never would have thought to compare this journalistic approach to anthropological research, but I think it's a good connection. I'm also curious as to the boundary between a reporter and his/her subject. LeBlanc herself in the piece states that she probably overstepped the boundary, but I think it almost made the piece more interesting to me.

  2. The lower emotional valence a story has, the harder the writer has to work.

    There's a huge connection between ethnography and narrative journalism. Glad you made the connection.