The fact that he does not tell me the truth all the time makes me not sure of his truth at certain times, and then I work to figure out for myself if what he is telling me is the truth or not, and sometimes I can figure out that it’s not the truth and sometimes I don’t know and never know, and sometimes just because he says it to me over and over again I am convinced it is the truth because I don’t believe he would repeat a lie so often.
–Lydia Davis, from “Story”
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
The third clause contains a truly epochal avowal: “and sometimes I don’t know and never know.” This is the inexpressibility trope, the writer foregrounding her inability to get to the bottom of an abstraction, but in this case the inexpressibility of “truth” gives us, paradoxically, real insight into the character and her information sickness. “Never” is incredibly powerful here. “Sometimes I never know,” she is saying in effect, which is an incredibly despairing thing for a narrator to say, calling into the question the very idea of story itself, of narration or reliable narration, which, of course, is one thing that “Story” wants to do. It wants to take the possibility of story and break it down. So that you see the very difficulty of narrating (“I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” as Beckett might have it).
–Rick Moody is the author of Garden State, Ice Storm and more.