LITERATURE & WRITING: The RoadReading Like a Writer

Just as I am getting into Francine Prose’s section on the "beautiful" sentence, what better place to be than in a McCarthy novel?

Prose states: 

The well-made sentence transcends time and genre.  A beautiful sentence is a beautiful sentence, regardless of when it was written, or whether it appears in a play or a magazine article.  (p. 36)

And here’s McCarthy:

He’d carried his billfold about till it wore a cornershaped hole in his trousers.  Then one day he sat  by the roadside and took it out and went through the contents.  Some money, credit cards.  His driver’s license.  A picture of his wife.  He spread everything out on the blacktop.  Like gaming cards.  He pitched the sweatblackened piece of leather into the woods and sat holding the photograph.  Then he laid it down on the road also and then he stood and they went on.  (p. 43)

A brevity of language, delivered in short, clipped, grammatically incorrect incomplete sentences.  But the hopelessness, the almost breathlessness of the staccato structure instead of making it a single long sentence or two is planned.  By the time we get to the final moment of his brief action and reflection, we are with the character, in his head, feeling lost and turning our backs on all we’ve known. 

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3 Responses to LITERATURE & WRITING: The RoadReading Like a Writer

  1. Sioux says:

    While I totally agree with the definition of a wonderful sentence, I guess I don’t know McCarthy well, and I am not appreciating the sentences you quoted as much as I ought. But I love the definition…it is totally true.

  2. I do agree that well-arranged grammar is ONE OF THE KEY in creating good work of literary. Yet, at times, we need poorly-arranged sentences to inject nuance, atmosphere, soul to a certain kind of story. In Indonesian literary, to take an example, we’ve got Joni Ariadinata, an outstanding short story writer who uses unfinished sentences, peculiar words, and that sort of thing, in telling a story about life in a slum area. Why? Because that’s how “slummers” think and speak. It is poetic to me and to many literary critics. It’s poetic for its “beautifully identical” immitation. Thanks for the blog. It’s a cool one.

  3. susan says:

    Sioux, you’re likely correct in that my example was not truly a good one–McCarthy has produced a treasure box of beauties in his books though. The power of the last sentence builds upon the necessary sentences that precede it, and perhaps this is a better example of structure that goes along with wawan-eko-yulianto’s comment about the precise play of language to achieve effect.

    Believe me, I’m sure I’ll be posting more of McCarthy’s prose before this book is finished.

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