Best Sentence Saturday — #3

yakimaReporting this week from the road and posting from a phone. Forgive the typos, my thumbs are too big for this “keyboard”. This week something new and some things old. All good though.

We’re big fans of the short story here at Iron Twine Press, so we’re always excited to hear about a new collection. This week we’ve been learning about Nicole Hartounian’s debut collection Speed Dreaming available now. You can read one of the stories, “Youse”, at The Center for Fiction. “Youse” is, on the surface, a gentle and touching coming-of-age story, but there’s a dark sadness beneath the surface. Rae, the main character is still reeling from a tragedy that occurs before the story begins but serves as the inciting incident and leaves her quietly careening like a deflating balloon sputtering in descending circles around a room. We liked the pace and the urgency and the vividness of this sentence:

When a hand touches her shoulder, she screams, her mother screams, the secretary, maybe, screams—it is surround-sound panic until Rae leaps to her feet, turns, sees Joanna standing there, leaves stuck to the side of her hair, but there, in the flesh, screaming, too.

“Surround-sound panic” is a great phrase.

Congratulations to Nicole Hartounian. You can find her on Twitter @NicoleHrtn

Now some older things:

Langston Hughes, Salvation:

I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn’t seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.

So I got up.

Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.

It’s a comical image, but in the context of the whole piece it reveals how deception has the power to validate and to torture at the same time. Hughes’ prose is, of course, as infused with poetic brilliance as any one of his poems. I’m so glad he’s still being read.

And finally, on this week of the 90th anniversary of the publishing of The Great Gatsby we would be remiss (and embarrassed to call ourselves book people) if we didn’t share our favorite passage from that Great American Novel:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

Hard to say what it is about that passage…just the breeze blowing the curtains in at one end and out at the other. You can feel it, smell it, hear the quiet of it….every time I read that passage my breath catches, somehow I feel I have touched the heart of Fitzgerald’s novel in that one simple moment.

Keep on reading! And get ready, in future posts I might ask you to share the best sentences you’ve read in the past week.


Best Sentence Saturday — #2

Brautigan_1Maybe you didn’t think we could do it, but here we are again: Keeping the Best Sentence Saturday series alive into it’s second week.

It’s simple: we read, we encounter sentences that hit us hard, that demand rereading because they are so well crafted or so full of the flavor of being alive.

1) Author: Richard Brautigan; Story: “The Betrayed Kingdom”; from his collection The Revenge of the Lawn

At the end of a funny story of a woman he once knew in San Francisco who would flirt her way to getting rides home from parties in “the last spring of the Beat Generation” and always left her lustful drivers disappointed, sleeping on her floor, tangled in an army blanket

This might have been a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that people need a little loving and, God, sometimes it’s sad all the shit they have to go through to find some.

And yet, isn’t that a good thing for us readers? Look at all the great writing that struggle gives rise to.

2) Author: Lisa Mecham; Essay: “Reckoning”; published online at Midnight Breakfast

I think of you. Forty-seven point six miles away in your townhouse, your new life. What’s it like in that alternate universe? It must be so still. Remember how we used to listen? Under the sheets, taking turns cupping ear to chest. The rhythmic pounding of the day, beating itself out. And then lying side by side, how we swore we could hear our girls, their heart muscles pumping in the room next to ours. Those tiny flesh miracles we’d created. And now? What do you hear on the other side of forsaken?

The precision (“forty-seven point six miles away”) of it, the intimacy, the whistling wind of loss. Read the essay, it’s short at just over a thousand words. But the way those thousand words are put together, they knock you back like a solid punch.

Whatever you’re reading, enjoy!

Best Sentence Saturday – #1

BaxterPageWe read every day. We mow through books and stories like the anxious go through potato chips. But sometimes it’s nice to stop and appreciate examples of transcendent writing. You know the stuff — the phrase, the image, the sentence or paragraph that stops your headlong rush forward and shows you you’re in the presence of a real artist of the written word. So that’s what we’re doing today (and we ambitiously declare that we will do this every Saturday going forward, though, because we know ourselves, we reserve the right to stop if we get lazy or tired or forget). This is Best Sentence Saturday #1.

Here now, three of the best sentences we came across in our reading this week. Share what you’ve enjoyed this week in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

1) Author: Steven Polansky; Story: “Beard”; from his collection Dating Miss Universe 

We loved this description of a photograph of the protagonist’s writing teacher:

“(In the photo) Her eyebrows are thin, straight lines that go at right angles from the bridge of her nose and stop, clean, halfway across the top of her eyes. Her nose is sharp. Her lips are full and open slightly, as if they’d just come to rest after saying “I know and I am sorry for you.”

2) Author: Charles Baxter; Book: Feast of Love, page 288:

Two characters are in a scuffle with one another and one hits the other. Just have to love the description of how the guy looks after he gets hit. The moment passes quickly in the story, but it took real care and craft for Baxter to pull this from his imagination:

“I put the chair down and popped him one. He stood for a moment, as if surveying the sky for blimps. Then his knees gave way under him and he appeared to sit down, dazed, on the sidewalk.”

3) Author: Charles Baxter (yes, OK, we were on a Baxter kick this week); Story: “Flood Show”:

Love this character description:

“Conor is a large, bearish man with thick brown hair covered by a beret that does not benefit his appearance. He knows the beret makes him a bit strange-looking, and this pleases him. Whenever he bikes anywhere there is something violent in his body motions. Pedaling along, he looks like a trained circus bear.”

The description is so comical and vivid and says so much about the character. But then the fact Baxter says “his body motions” instead of “his movements”, is brilliant. “Body motions” is an awkward phrase and it adds to our understanding of Conor as an awkward character.

That’s it from here. Whatever you’re reading, enjoy!