Another Great Sentence

Book: The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

This sentence is passionately rich, full, and, oh, so meaningful.  I’ve not run across an explanation of loss quite like this before.

I wanted to bring to your attention, for those of you interested in punctuation, the use of dashes here.  They are set up to highlight a beautifully constructed list, accenting the main sentence, of how grief can change the physical features in all of us.  Brilliant construction!  Brilliant sentence.  (The book is really good too.) 



Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones—the angle of your head, the jutting of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders, as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile—has collapsed under the weight of your griefs.



The author always has poetic license.  Had this been a passage that I was editing, I would have separated the complete clauses at the beginning of the passage as such.


  1. Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all; perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all; and instead what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones—the angle of your head, the jutting of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders, as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile—has collapsed under the weight of your griefs.

  2. Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all; perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and, instead, what happens is that each wound penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you find that the sheer geography of your bones—the angle of your head, the jutting of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders, as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile—has collapsed under the weight of your griefs.

Some people might add an extra comma after instead: “; and instead, what”.

Works Cited

Umrigar, Thrity. The Space Between Us. HarperCollins E-books. Kindle Edition, 2009, p. 67.

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Angus Wilson

I chose Wilson’s sentence because it is just fun.  This is another sentence that paints a whole scene, putting the reader right in the middle of the action.

“She looked mad, absolutely round the bend, standing in a filthy bare hall on ragged linoleum under the dismal light of one feeble, fly-brown, naked bulb, casually dispensing thousands of pounds.”  Angus Wilson, No Laughing Matter, 401

The sentence is another from Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences, page 34.  She explains that “linking-verb kernels, too, may be held intact, as in the opening clause of the following [above] right-branching sentence.”

* * *

Right-branching sentences start with the main sentence, in this case: “She looked mad.”  The following information describing said sentence then follows: “absolutely round the bend, standing in a filthy bare hall on ragged linoleum under the dismal light of one feeble, fly-brown, naked bulb, casually dispensing thousands of pounds.”

If you are interested in learning more about linking verbs, the following link is pretty comprehensive. 

Linking verbs:

  • Show a relationship between the subject and the sentence complement, the part of the sentence following the verb
  • Connect or link the subject with more information – words that further identify or describe the subject
  • Identify a relationship or existing condition

This site provides a whole list of linking verbs.  https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/verbs/linking-verbs.html

Kernel Sentence: a sentence (such as “John is big” or “John has a book”) exemplifying in a language one of a very small group of the grammatically simplest sentence types or patterns (such as noun phrase + be + adjective phrase or noun phrase + verb + noun phrase) which in transformational grammar are the basic stock from which all sentences in that language are derived and in terms of which they can all ultimately be described (Webster’s Unabridged).

or

Kernel Sentence Patterns: noun-verb, noun-verb-noun, noun-verb-noun-noun, noun linking-verb noun, and noun linking-verb adjective (Dechant).

* * *

Works cited:

Dechant, Emerald. Understanding and Teaching Reading: An Interactive Model. Routledge. 1991.

 “Kernel Sentence.” Merriam-Webster Unabridged. 2019.  https://www.merriam-webster.com/help/citing-the-dictionary

“Linking Verbs.” Your Dictionary. Love to Know, Corp. 2019.

Tufte, Virginia. Artful Sentences. Graphics Press, LLC.  2006

Wilson, Angus. No Laughing Matter.  Faber & Faber.  2012.

Gore Vidal

Favorite Passage

From Artful Sentences by Virginia Tufte – page 28.

This sentence has so much emotion tied into it that it almost feels like I have watched the movie already.  The first part of the sentence has such strong movement, rhythm, pacing, created by the confusion, the rain, the lightning—and then, it stopped. 

The juxtaposition of the semicolon here commands the stop.  It also allows the movement to carry on in a related, yet different thread.  Maybe the reality isn’t reality at all.  Maybe the man is dreaming? 

And, then he is brought out of his misshapen, perceived reality, brought back into the present moment with the confirmation of his suspicions brought forth by a lover’s moan.

The point of this sentence is to show how a short intransitive verb can drive a point home after a long passage with force and conviction.  He fled.

“He stood in the rain, unable to move, not knowing if the lovers were real or simply creations of the lightning and when it stopped, they stopped; unless of course he was dreaming one of those dreams from which he would awaken in that pain which is also sharpest pleasure, having loved in sleep. But the cold rain was real; so was the sudden soft moan from the poolhouse door. He fled.” (Gore Vidal, Washington, D.C.)

Tufte, Virginia. Artful Sentences. Graphics Press. 2007

Vidal, Gore. Washington D.C., Vintage Books. 2000

Baldwin, James

Of all the sentences I have read, these remain my favorite (despite the punctuation problems).

From “Sonny’s Blues”

 “These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities.”

2016 – James Baldwin’s short story Sonny’s Blues represents a time in America where getting a decent job was really difficult for African Americans. 

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. The Ontario Review: New York, 2013 Google Books 482-514 Web. 8 Mar 2016.

Nature in the Camp

By Reza Visual Academy Photographers, Writers

In Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian refugees are living in the Kawergosk Camp (near the city of Erbil) after fleeing the war in their home country.

In December 2013, 20 of them, aged 10 to 15, joined a photography workshop initiated by the photo-reporter Reza Deghati to learn to bear witness to their daily life. Armed with cameras furnished by Reza[D1] , they studied how to look at things while discovering the dramatic impact images can have. They also learned how to use photography to tell about one’s life, one’s dreams, one’s sorrows.

One of their assignments was to capture images of nature in the camp as a way to raise awareness about the importance of preserving nature — even in such a tough environment.

The weather conditions in this region of the world are difficult in both summer and winter, ranging from severe droughts to mud everywhere. The refugees there still try to grow . . . (read complete article here).


 

Editing Examples

FINAL EDITED COPY FOR PIECES BY DONALD STIDHAM

 

A breeze moved along the interstate.  Trees and grass bowed in respect while cars and trucks of every size ignored its existence.  The wind flew around and over boulders as animals and critters scurried about.  It found a pond and glided across the glassy surface, disturbing a cluster of dragonflies.

She kneeled in the grass with her hands on her legs.  She bent forward and tried to catch her breath.  A single flower lay by her knees.  Its yellow brightness stood out against a small, white cross that stood beside it.  She ran her fingers down the wooden memorial and dropped her head.

The breeze wafted from the woods and nudged at the yellow flower, rolling it over.  The flower yawned at the touch.  The breeze blew harder until the flower touched the girl’s knee.  She picked up the kingcup and stood it against the cross.

Tears streamed down her cheeks with memories of excitement and love.  She wanted to scream and release all the agony held inside, but could only muster whimpers.  She fell forward and kissed the ground.  She welcomed the loneliness that had become a part of her soul.

~~~

PART ONE

Chapter One

“Mr. Aames?  Hayden, are you with us?”  Mrs. Prescott, the twelfth-grade honors English teacher asked.

“I’m sorry.  Yes.  What was the question?”

The class laughed.  Eric, Hayden’s best friend, nudged him on the shoulder.  Hayden’s face began to glow red, but then he realized he didn’t care what the others thought.  He sat up straight at his desk and folded his hands together.

“Nothing specific—I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.  You’ve been drifting off lately into a world the rest of us might be interested in.  Is there anything wrong?”

“No, ma’am.  You can continue with your ever so interesting lecture.”

Sarcasm rang in his words.  The class laughed again, which brought a visit to the principal’s office.  Hayden shoved his English book into his backpack and left the room.  He stopped by the bathroom on the long walk.  The boy’s room smelled of urine and bleach.  The camera facing the bathroom entrance was meant to scare off any students who wished to smoke or hide out during classes, but the small device had little effect.  A clean white sink hung below a small water-spotted mirror.  The reflection disgusted Hayden on several levels.

“What’s the point,” he said to himself while shaking his head.

He pulled out a small knife that he kept under his belt.  Bullies in junior high had influenced Hayden to carry a weapon even though he never found the courage to use it.  He opened the three-inch blade and put it to his wrist.

Before sliding the blade, he looked back in the mirror.  His black hair, which wasn’t black enough, hung past his eyes.  His blue eyes were barely seen but didn’t have enough life in them.  His slender frame was complemented by a button-down white shirt and black slacks, but the hidden muscles would never be grand enough.  All imperfections screamed for him to create a river of blood from his palm all the way up his forearm.

A toilet flushed, which startled Hayden.  He frantically closed the knife and shoved it in his pocket.  He turned on the water and silently scolded himself for being so dramatic, just to stir his own emotions.  Hayden would never slice open his own skin.  Principal Kroger stepped from the stall.  He adjusted his belt before seeing the present student.

“Hayden, how are you doing today?”  His deep and friendly voice offered trust.

“Fine, I guess.  I was just on my way to see you, sir.”

“Why?”

“I wasn’t paying attention in English.  I made a derisive comment about Mrs. Prescott’s lecturing methods.  I don’t see why the adults can’t joust in conversation without immediately taking offense and sending the kids to you.  Don’t you get tired of seeing us for such mediocre complaints?”

“Yes, sometimes, but order has to be kept,” he sighed.  “Some teachers are just like kids themselves, and then some students are more mature than teachers.  Take Coach Adams, for instance…that goofball would be out of here if he didn’t know how to coach a three-point shot so well.”

They both laughed.  Kroger thought his joke was authentically funny, but Hayden was laughing to keep the focus off his earlier mistake.  He played psychologist with the principal, hoping it would work in his favor.

“Hayden, your grades seem to be slipping slightly.  Up until this semester, you’ve had straight A’s, but you received B’s in two classes.  Don’t be alarmed, but I like to keep a close eye on students that I believe have great potential.  Is something going on at home that you want to talk about?”

Kroger finally started washing his hands.  Hayden made a point to notice and did the same.  He hoped Kroger would see that he followed by example and would assume the good trait outweighed any bad ones.

“My seemingly melancholy demeanor does not start at home.  Nothing starts at home.  Dad is always away on business, and Mom is doing the usual juggling of responsibilities.  Xbox online keeps me company most of the time when I’m not studying the arts of life.  Most of the time, I feel like I’m stuck in neutral.  The world is certainly not pushing me into drive like you guys promised it would.”

“Well, I can see why Prescott sent you to me.  You have an underlying sarcastic tone, but nothing too rude.  One might even consider it humorous.  Just promise me, you will try to bring those B’s up to A’s.  You have potential.  When you get out of this sheltered world of public education, you’ll need all the options you can get your hands on.  As far as the world is concerned, it pushes us all.  You have to find the right current and dive in.”

He patted Hayden on the shoulder and left the restroom.  Hayden heard the words that were spoken, but only a few hit their intended mark.  The metaphor of a surging river stuck with him.  He splashed water in his hair and slicked it back—glancing in the mirror.  Hayden brought his hair back down to cover his eyes.

“Suck it up, coward.  You’re acting like a girl.”

In his mind, his reflection made an obscene gesture as he sauntered back to the classroom.  He opened the door and rejoined the class by taking his seat.  The other students wanted to know if he had gotten in trouble.  Eric nudged at him, but he kept his focus on the teacher until the end of class.

   The dismissal bell rang.  Hayden and Eric started their usual walk home.  They watched different students gear up on their methods of transportation.  Skateboards flipped through the air, Rollerblades slid across the concrete, trick bikes rode on one wheel, and sneakers danced around bouncing basketballs.  Hayden classified each group in his mind and placed himself outside of them all.  He was one of those who liked solitude while choosing not to own a vehicle.

Eric’s two-story brick house came first.  His mom moved in a stooping position by the flowerbed and waved at Hayden when she noticed them walking up.  She greeted him, but all Hayden saw were the tops of her large breasts peeking out of her tight pink shirt.  He mumbled to himself and walked off.  After fifteen seconds, sure that Eric was inside the house and his mom was gardening again, he glanced back to see if she was bending over.  She was, which brought a smile to his face.  He felt the ridiculous grin and immediately stopped.

 

ORIGINAL COPY FOR PIECES BY DONALD STIDHAM

A breeze moved along the interstate.  Trees and grass bowed in respect while cars and trucks of every size ignored its existence.  It darted off into the woods where it found boulders and critters scurrying about.  The breeze found a pond and glided across its surface, disturbing a cluster of dragonflies.

She kneeled in the grass with her hands on her legs.  She bent forward and tried to catch her breath.  A single flower lay by her knees.  Its yellow brightness stood out against the white cross.  She ran her fingers down the wood and dropped her head.

The breeze crept from the woods and nudged at the yellow flower.  It rolled over and yawned at the wind’s touch.  The breeze blew harder until the flower touched the girl’s knee.  She picked up the Kingcup and stood it against the cross.

Tears streamed down her cheeks with memories of excitement and love.  She wanted to scream and release all the agony held inside, but could only muster whimpers.  She fell forward and kissed the ground.  She welcomed the loneliness that had become a part of her soul.

~~~

PART ONE

Chapter One

 “Mr. Aames?  Hayden, are you with us?”  Mrs. Prescott, the twelfth grade Honors English teacher asked.

“I’m sorry.  Yes.  What was the question?”

The class laughed.  Eric, Hayden’s best friend, nudged him on the shoulder.  Hayden’s face began to glow red, but then he realized he didn’t care what the others thought.  He sat up straight at his desk and folded his hands together.

“Nothing specific.  I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.  You’ve been drifting off lately into a world the rest of us might be interested in.  Is there anything wrong?”

“No, ma’am.  You can continue with your ever so interesting lecture.”

Sarcasms rang in his words.  The class laughed again which brought a visit to the Principal’s office.  Hayden shoved his English book into his backpack and left the room.  He stopped by the bathroom on the long walk.  The boy’s room smelled of urine and bleach.  The camera facing the bathroom entrance was meant to scare off any students that wished to smoke or hide out during classes, but the small device had little effect.  A clean white sink hung below the small water spotted mirror.  The reflection disgusted Hayden on several levels.

“What’s the point,” he said to himself while shaking his head.

He pulled out a small knife that he kept under his belt.  Bullies in junior high had influenced Hayden to carry a weapon even though he never used it in high school.  He opened the three inch blade and put it to his wrist.  Before sliding the blade he looked back in the mirror.  His black hair hung past his eyes, but wasn’t black enough.  His blue eyes were barely seen, but didn’t have enough life in them.  His small frame was complimented by a button down white shirt and black slacks, but the hidden muscles would never be grand enough.  All imperfections screamed for him to create a river of blood from his palm all the way up his forearm.

A toilet flushed which startled Hayden.  He frantically closed the knife and shoved it in his pocket.  He turned on the water and silently scolded himself for being so dramatic just to stir his own emotions.  Hayden would never slice open his own skin.  Principal Kroger stepped from the stall.  He adjusted his belt before seeing the present student.

“Hayden, how are you doing today?”  His deep and friendly voice offered trust.

“Fine, I guess.  I was just on my way to see you, Sir.”

“Why?”

“I wasn’t paying attention in English and I made a derisive comment about Mrs. Prescott’s lecturing methods.  I don’t see why the adults can’t joust in conversation without immediately taking offense and sending the kids to you.  Don’t you get tired of seeing us for such mediocre complaints?”

“Yes, sometimes, but order has to be kept,” he sighed.  “Some teachers are just like kids themselves and then some students are more mature than teachers.  Take Coach Adams for instance.  That goofball would be out of here if he didn’t know how to coach a three point shot so well.”

They both laughed.  Kroger thought his joke was authentically funny, but Hayden was laughing to keep the focus off his earlier mistake.  He played psychologist with the principal; hoping it would work in his favor.

“Hayden, your grades seem to be slipping slightly.  Up until this semester you’ve had straight A’s, but you received Bs in two classes.  Don’t be alarmed, but I like to keep a close eye on students that I believe have great potential.  Is something going on at home that you want to talk about?”

Kroger finally started washing his hands.  Hayden made a point to notice and do the same.  He hoped Kroger would see that he followed by example and would assume the good trait outweighed any bad ones.

“My seemingly melancholy demeanor does not start at home.  Nothing starts at home.  Dad is always away on business and mom is doing the usual juggling of responsibilities.  XBOX online keeps me company most of the time when I’m not studying the arts of life.  Most of the time, I feel like I’m stuck in neutral.  The world is not pushing me into drive like you guys promised it would.”

“Well, I can see why Prescott sent you to me.  You have an underlying sarcastic tone, but nothing too rude.  One might even consider it humorous.  Just promise me you will try to bring those Bs up to As.  You have potential and when you get out of this sheltered world of public education you need all the options you can get your hands on.  As far as the world is concerned, it pushes us all.  You have to find the right current and dive in.”

He patted Hayden on the shoulder and left the restroom.  Hayden heard the words that were spoken, but only few hit their intended mark.      The metaphor of a surging river stuck with him.  He splashed water in his hair and slicked it back.  He saw his eyes in the mirror and decided to bring his hair back down to cover them.

“Suck it up, coward.  You’re acting like a girl.”

In his mind, his reflection made an obscene gesture as he walked away and back to the classroom.  He opened rejoined the class and took his seat.  The other students wanted to know if he had gotten in trouble.  Eric nudged at him, but he kept his focus on the teacher until the end of class.

            The dismissal bell rang.  Hayden and Eric started their usual walk home.  Hayden watched different students gear up on their methods of transportation.  Skateboards flipped through the air, skates slid across the concrete, trick bikes rode on one wheel, and sneakers danced around bouncing basketballs.  Hayden classified each group in his mind and placed himself outside of them all.  He was one of those who liked solitude while choosing not to own a vehicle.

Eric’s two story brick house came first.  His mom moved in a bent position by the flower bed and waved at Hayden when she noticed them walking up.  She greeted him, but all Hayden saw were the tops of her large breasts peeking out of her tight pink shirt.  He mumbled to himself and walked off.  After fifteen seconds, sure Eric was inside the house and his mom gardening again, he glanced back to see if she was bending over.  She was which brought a smile to his face.  He felt the ridiculous grin and immediately stopped.  Two thousand and fifty more steps to torment.