The nuts and bolts of raising us was left to Mommy, who acted as chief surgeon general for bruises, (“Put iodine on it”), war secretary, (“If somebody hits you, take your fist and crack’em”), religious consultant, (“Put God first), chief psychologist, (“Don’t think about it”), and financial advisor, (“What’s money if your mind is empty?”).
—James McBride, from The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
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 hardware reference of “nuts and bolts” sets us up for the contrast of this mother’s practical child rearing and the parody of high titles the son bestows upon her. The structural device of the list and parenthetic imperatives, juxtaposed as they are one beside the other, compress a whole lot of family dynamics and humor into one sentence. McBride's use of alveolar (the d, t and s in nuts, bolts, hits, fists, and first), and to a lesser degree, velar consonants (particularly n in iodine and financial) give the sentence the feel of alliteration even though it’s not highly alliterative. The effect is humor. The reader is left with a sense of the son’s love for Mommy, his willing submission to her mood and tone, her no-nonsense attitude.
–Susana H. Case is the author of, most recently, Dead Shark on the N Train (Broadstone)