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Friday, April 19, 2013

Beautiful Sentences

Beautiful Sentences

I was advised by several people that if I am going to improve my relevance in the internet world, I better keep up with my blog.  So having been away from this precious forum for a year now, whose anonymous readership held me by the ankles by the edge of a cliff that threatened to pull me into obscurity, I humbly say, thank you for reading, for staying engaged, and keeping me from plummeting.

I have been busy for the past year: I got married last May, I traveled to Iceland and Paris, I settled in a house in Napa where we are putting down roots.  Having locked myself in my writing room, I have managed to "complete" two novellas and continue to work on Somerset, my novel of labor and love, frustration and redemption.  Now on my 10th draft, each successive issue pushes me closer to the real story, which lyricism continues to deepen and strengthen, at the expense of plot.  So be it.  This novel, I know, will take a special reader, one as committed to language, who respects and loves it as much as I do. I know they are out there.  I feel their pulse as I lay down my own sentences, always thinking, have I done enough, gone deep enough, traveled far enough down the roads of my character's lives?   

I have always admired writers whose ability to take the ordinary, the seemingly mundane, the pedestrian, and transform it through lyrical language.  Writers like Virginia Woolf, Alice McDermott, and my favorites, Marilynne Robinson and her protege Paul Harding, hold readers suspended in a daze by their words.  For example, here is one of many gorgeous sentences by Marilynne Robinson, courtesy of her masterwork, Housekeeping:

"A narrow pond would form in the orchard, water clear as air covering grass and black leaves and fallen branches, all around it black leaves and drenched grass and fallen branches and on it, slight as an image in an eye, sky, clouds, trees, our hovering face and our cold hands."

I won't begin to unpack the brilliance of this sentence, though I have done elsewhere.  For now let it just sit here on the page; allow it to perform its magic.   Read it again.  What do you feel?

Here's another amazing sentence by James Salter from his excellent, yet beautifully flawed novel Light Years:

"For the day to unfold it must in its blueness, its immensity hide the conspiracy he lived on, hide but enclose it, invisible, like stars in the daytime sky."

Wow!  I have so many examples of great sentences that to list them all would turn this blog into a book-length work.  So I'll stop.  Two sentences that have the ability to tear the top off your head are enough for one morning!

The dictum "write what you know," comes with a subclause, "write what you love." Since I love lyricism, language with rhythms, cadences (not overtly musical, sort of subtly so), utilizing the tropes of alliteration, simile, metaphor, metonymy, polysyndeton and asyndeton, et. al. all to nudge prose upwards as artistic language, it's also what I look for when reading a new author.  If the language fails me, if it's too prosaic, just telling me a story about what happens to whom, when and why, then I lose interest, no matter how compelling the tale. But if the language opens a new window on a familiar world, turning the ordinary into a place full of mystery, wonder, then my ears prick up, the hairs on the back of my arms tingle, my pupils dilate as if I am in the throes of first love.

Here's one more, also courtesy of Wallace Stegner, from his beautiful novel,  Angle of Repose:

"The wall spun until Rodman's face came into focus, framed in the door's small pane like the face of a fish staring in the visor of a diver's helmet--a bearded fish that smiled, distorted by the beveled glass, and flapped a vigorous fin."

Gorgeous!  I have so much to learn.  So in the words of my protagonist Somerset, I'll say, "It's not only what we say that matters but how; because style is the perfection of a point of view."