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Richard Ford’s ‘Canada’

September 14, 2012 | 12 Comments

A retrospective narrator gives a masterful novel the feel of memoir. Canada by Richard Ford. HarperCollins, 420 pp. . . . “Canada” is blessed with two essential strengths in equal measure — a mesmerizing story driven by authentic and fully realized characters, and a prose style so accomplished it is tempting to read each sentence two or three times before being pulled to the next.—Andre Dubus III in his Times review I’m reading two memoirs now, one an immersion and the other …

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Ernest Hemingway’s incantatory prose

August 31, 2012 | 8 Comments

My posts about prose stylist Verlyn Klinkenborg made me think of Ernest Hemingway. Here’s the first paragraph of Hemingway’s 1926 story “In Another Country”: In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, …

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Klinkenborg’s hymn to prose

August 26, 2012 | 15 Comments

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s long poem celebrates short sentences. The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Back Bay Books, 224 pp. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Veryln Klinkenborg. Knopf, 224 pp. “You’ll make long sentences again, but they’ll be short sentences at heart,” writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in Several Short Sentences About Writing. Is that wise and poetic or opaque and unhelpful? This passage from Klinkenborg’s The Rural Life, 2003, may show what he means: The Fourth of July steals over a small …

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A life sentence

August 22, 2012 | 20 Comments

Six years ago, in August 2006, during a writers’ gathering at Goucher College, Baltimore, I was dispatched to fetch Verlyn Klinkenborg from his hotel. He was silent, riding in my van. Then on campus he took the stage and began speaking on “The Genre of the Sentence.” No deferential joke or aw shucks warmup. He stared into the dim auditorium and lobbed oracular commandments: “Don’t believe what others believe”; “Look for gaps between sentences, paragraphs.”

He disdained sentence fragments, semicolons, and transitions. Oh, and workshopping. Was it my imagination that the hall’s temperature dropped ten degrees? He resembled a dyspeptic owl. Across the top row of seats, perched like crows, the teachers glared down at him. In between them and him, the students, fresh from their workshops, perked up. What’s with this guy?

“I had been thinking about writing about nonfiction,” he said. “I have written several hundred short sentences about writing, now a book. I’m very pragmatic. How do you get the work done, make the sentences? What do you think about when you make sentences?”

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Writing by the think-system

August 18, 2012 | 15 Comments

Veryln Klinkenborg on creating sentences—on the page & before. Your job as a writer is making sentences. Most of your time will be spent making sentences in your head. In your head. Did no one ever tell you this? —Several Short Sentences About Writing In his intense little essay August 13 in The New York Times promoting his new book, Several Short Sentences About Writing, Veryln Klinkenborg clears his throat for three paragraphs, takes a swipe at composition teachers, and unveils …

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John Gardner’s killer sentence

April 22, 2012 | 5 Comments

I was reading the late novelist’s short story “Redemption,” based on the accidental death of his younger brother in a horrifying farming accident, and found its sentences beautifully crafted. John Gardner, at eleven, was driving a tractor when his brother fell under its towed cultipacker, a pair of giant rolling pins for mashing the clods in harrowed soil that weighed two tons. In the story, grief almost destroys the father, like Gardner’s father a dairyman, orator, and lay preacher; the …

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Amos Oz’s ‘Love and Darkness’

January 9, 2012 | 5 Comments

By Olga Khotiashova A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt On January 6, 2012, it was 60 years since Amos Oz’s mother took her life. The memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, written in 2002, was a tribute to her memory as well as the act of Oz’s reconciliation with his own memories. It took him half a century to gather enough strength to perceive and articulate what had happened that day; and it …

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