I've been reading Esquire for (ooph) decades and have always found something really choice in each issue. It's where I fell in love with Stanley Bing (who's now moved on to Fortune), Chuck Klosterman and Tom Junod, whose profile of Hillary Clinton ("Hillary. Happy.") includes this fantastic passage:
"She is wearing black pants and a boxy jacket, creamsicle in color, jauntily severe, country-club Maoist, with a scarf wrapped around her neck like a bandage. Her hands are folded before her, and among the men assembled around the lectern, she looks as small as a Rolling Stone."
This is the kind of writing that stops me in my tracks. That makes me savor the image it creates. That makes me re-read it. And then makes me read it aloud to anyone who'll listen.
Here's why I like it, using the Six Traits:
I've read other stuff by Tom Junod and this sounds like him. It's at times breathless, a result I think of chasing the busiest woman in the world, and being impressed by her ease and power and resurgence.
What really makes this passage is the word choice. Junod's juxtapositions are fantastic: "jauntily severe" and "country-club Maoist" are so precisely descriptive. Even though they don't seem to go together at first, as they build on each other, they bring the picture into sharper focus. Steve was bothered by the penultimate similes ("scarf wrapped around her neck like a bandage" and "as small as a Rolling Stone"), thinking they were "showing off", but I liked them. They felt like punctuation. A fitting end, especially for those who might not yet have gotten the picture. I also like the use of the funny word "creamsicle". "Orange" would have been too nebulous. As I Southerner, I would have wondered if it were hunter orange or Clemson orange (sorry, Tennessee). I suppose Floridians might think of the shade of their signature citrus. But creamsicle is a very specific, pastel shade; and no other term describes it as well.
The sentences are long and similar in pattern. Both have a simple lead-in followed by additional details. While that would get old over the course of many grafs, it creates a nice rhythm that works here.
The long sentences work mechanically because of Junod's skillful use of commas. The punctuation also makes it sound more conversational -- like he's thinking of things to add as he describes her.
Junod assumes his audience has a certain amount of cultural knowledge, which is safe to do in a magazine like Esquire. We have to know what a creamsicle is, not to mention its distinctive hue, for that reference to resonate. The Rolling Stones line might work best for people who've seen the Stones on tour where these bigger than life rock stars seem lilliputian in the massive arena. Ms. Clinton, herself a huge personality, is a full 5-foot-8, but is often dwarfed by taller heads of state, ginormous flags and cavernous venues.
The piece flows so smoothly from anecdotes to quotes to observations and back again. It begins with a fun recounting of a diplomatic event full of pomp and circumstance, proceeds into Ms. Clinton's insane travel schedule and beyond. It's neatly formatted to signal changes of tone and venue, too.
This is just a taste of what's packed into this well-written and very interesting article. For more of Mr. Junod's work, check out this brilliant, poignant piece, Falling Man, about a man captured in a photograph as he fell from the World Trade Towers on 9/11. Riveting. Moving. Amazing.