They needed to share one secret after another with a beautiful woman, to peel away layer after layer, mask after mask, and still find themselves worshipped.
–Denis Johnson, from Angels
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
Angels is an under-appreciated novel with no bad sentences. The “they” in question is a bunch of men drunk in a bar who are infatuated with the pretty bartender. There’s nothing flashy about the vocabulary or syntax but after one reading you either a) know exactly the kind of men being described or b) have never been to a bar. Johnson excels at this kind of generalized characterization that precisely captures something essential about a group of people, while using only a dash of specificity. Particularly effective is how he uses repetition to suggest the endless (hopeless?) nature of these men’s needs – “one secret after another,” “layer after layer,” “mask after mask” – before startling us out of the pattern with that final word. Imagine how much weaker (and inaccurate) this sentence would be if that last word were “loved” or “understood.” Also: the little tint of surprise that “find themselves worshipped” lends to the men’s endeavors, as opposed to just “be worshipped.”
–Boomer Pinches work has appeared in Tin House, The Sun, The Massachusetts Review, The Austin Review, notnostrums, Matchbook, and Best New American Voices.