She was always behind a closed door—the fate of those addicted to whatever.
—Elizabeth Hardwick, from Sleepless Nights
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
—Stephanie Grant, Guest Editor
The seeming simplicity of this sentence, a description of Billie Holiday circa 1943, showcases Hardwick’s signature mix of the lyrical with the colloquial. Here, this works on both the literal and figurative level, giving us a concrete image that resonates with broader meaning. The closed door is real but also suggests back alleys, drug dens, and the metaphorical shield that addicts hide behind. But what we experience most immediately is the sound of the sentence, the stark authority of its sad declaration. Before the dash, the flatness of the statement is countered by the lingering woeful o’s of “closed door”—and then the dash shifts us forward into the narrator’s weary assessment: “the fate of those addicted to whatever.” Both multisyllabic words are dangerous, but the “whatever” makes this sentence great, giving it the conversational feel, the in-the-know wisdom and exasperation, the sense that the narrator has given up not just on Holiday, but on anyone or everyone with too many vices to name.
--Daphne Kalotay is the author of Russian Winter and Sight Reading