The Longform Guide to “Anonymous”
Cheaters, real estate agents, and Tamil Tigers: Great magazine stories writers wouldn’t, or couldn’t, take credit for.
Magazine stories without a byline
Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s brand-new app.
Few things are more satisfying for an author than seeing one’s name on a byline. Sometimes, though, a story is so explosive—or so embarrassing—that it becomes necessary to don journalism’s byline prophylactic: “Anonymous.” Here's a look at five such stories, written by everyone from a journalist in a war zone to a serial philanderer:
Anonymous • Caravan • January 2012
Inside the lives of Sri Lanka’s Tamils as they emerge from a multi-decade war that defined and nearly destroyed them:
“In March 2009, when Swarna was asked to take the new recruits to war, she felt a churning in the pit of her stomach. She was used to taking orders, even when every bone in her body rebelled. She had shot a Sinhalese soldier, barely 20, at point-blank range, as he kneeled in front of her, begged her, and showed with his hands rocking an invisible cradle that he had two babies. She had killed a friend who had defied orders and cost the Tigers an entire operation. ‘I can kill when I can justify it,’ she says. But this, sending children to face a real army when they could barely hold a gun, didn’t seem to fit her larger cause.”
Anonymous • New York Observer • January 1999
Getting the married man back to her place was the easy part:
“He covered my mouth with a kiss. We both happened to be wearing overalls at the time, and some explosive grabbing under the bibs commenced.
“We heard Franny’s diaper swishing as she crawled over to the kitchen door. We disengaged.
“She looked up at us. ‘Dog’ she said.
“He whispered to me, as if she could understand: ‘We’ll have to wait for her to fall asleep.’ ”
Anonymous • Observer • November 2008
A insider account of the British real-estate business from 20-year industry veteran:
“My competitor's favourite trick is ring-fencing. Identify a vulnerable owner then ensure nobody views the property, bar a chosen speculator and his stooges. As the vendor becomes desperate for seemingly thin-on-the-ground buyers, several uniformly low offers arrive. In actuality it's the same operator with various shell-company identities. A swift instant profit is achieved on an exchange of contracts, or, better still, a massive uplift in value from planning-permission gain is made at the outgoing owner's expense.
“The practice is illegal, of course, but most people spend more time checking nutritional values on supermarket packaging than they do investigating the estate agent they entrust their principal capital asset to. Like the laughably inept cheap-fee operator several doors down from my office, they probably think ring-fencing is a circular garden structure.”
Anonymous • Granta • Summer 2001
In tragedy’s wake, a man tries methylenedioxymethamphetamine:
“So here, in a word, a most sober, solemn, even a sombre word, is what I know: yum. Ecstasy is delicious. Or, put it another way, Ecstasy is delicious and I recommend highly, loudly and long that everyone whose health does not contraindicate or preclude its ingestion, ought to ingest it. Go out, I admonish you, all of you, hit the streets or collar that neighbourhood kid, drum up a contact, do a deal, repair thyselves home, soften the lights, put on some music - the best stuff - pour yourself a pitcher of ice water, perhaps two, keep a tin of Altoids handy, as well as a tube of Vicks inhalant and a couple of packs of mineral ice, make yourself comfortable, lie back and... swallow. An hour from now, perhaps less, you are going to experience something that shall forever change such time as remains to you on this earth. You are going to experience something that is, every second of it, delicious—deliciously, positively, unprecedentedly w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.”
Anonymous • Esquire • February 2001
Serial infidelity is not all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, it’s really expensive.
“You anticipate Valentine's Day and Christmas with something more than the usual male dread. And there are the dinners, hotels, trips, theater tickets, other gifts, and incidentals. To be fair, S. is very independent, but she still expects a certain amount of pampering.
“As a result, I'd guess I've spent $10,000 on S. each year for the past three years. I've spent similar sums on prior affairs. All told, my extracurricular sex life probably has consumed $100,000. That's $100,000 that could've gone toward gifts for L., vacations with L., better schooling for the kids, less debt, or quicker repayment of the debt we have. Of all my attacks of conscience, the worst have been on this point. Say what you want about the sex, about the nights I didn't show up for dinner (and, to be sure, there have been many nights my wife ate Arby's takeout while I took a date to a fancy restaurant downtown), it is my violation of this most basic covenant that looms largest.”
Elon Green is a contributor to Longform.org.