I read “Next of Kin” in 2002 and it changed my sense of what is possible in journalism. After reading it, I became a fanatic follower and student of David Finkel’s writing, past and (then) present, one of the many who try to figure out how he does it.
In “Next of Kin,” Finkel does the journalistic equivalent of a rare quadruple Axel in figure skating. First, he chisels out one of the core moral issues in a busy, complex, contemporary debate (in this case, the question of what revenge is). Then he adds layers of perfectly-used reporting (in this case, items such as the brutal autopsy report, among many other examples). Third, Finkel crafts a kind of irresistible jazz or blues piece with his writing. The pacing, the word choices are so exquisite (“Her hair was brushed. Her hands were fists. She wore a dress.”). And finally, Finkel’s architecture—the scaffolding of his stories—are the best. As a writer you can never ever replicate them, and they are so unique it can be hard (though I’ve tried) to steal even the ethos of his structural ideas. However, the empathy and obsession he has with his subjects, and his commitment to writing that demands readers read, remain a beacon, an aspiration for me year after year.