February 18, 2013

"Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest..."

"... and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight."

Yesterday, I told you I'd heard myself mutter "ah, there's a great gatsby sentence," and I'd wondered if I'd said "a 'Great Gatsby' sentence" or "a great 'Gatsby' sentence." I told you it was a doozy... a daisy. And now, it's today, and that's the sentence. Isn't it quite something?

A spooky gray, ghastly, ash-gray, swarming, leaden, impenetrable, obscure thing happens. We see... that we can't see it. It's invisible, out of sight, obscure,  screened, clouded, and impenetrable. So much about unseen sights and the one — only one — sound, a ghastly creak. What's going on? It's an operation, done with shovels. An obscure operation.

Occasionally an Obscure Operation. You can use that for the title of your next novel.

19 comments:

edutcher said...

Sounds like one of Val Kilmer's lines in "Tombstone", "You're a daisy if you do".

I get the impression he's talking about a section gang on the railroad. Depending on where you were, it might not be gray, but the impression is of the nameless and faceless.

Hagar said...

You are doing this to aggravate us, right?

Rick Caird said...


"Occasionally an Obscure Operation"

It sounds like a CIA operation that hasn't been leaked yet.

BDNYC said...

This project of yours has forced me to reconsider Fitzgerald. I now think he's a terrible writer, whereas before I was impressed.

WestVirginiaRebel said...

Coincidentally, "Doozy" also has a 1920s connection, namely the Duesenberg.

CWJ said...

Why "ghastly". That's an adjective loaded with emotion beyond mere description.

CWJ said...

BDNYC,

I understand your frustration, but I disagree.

The Gatsby project, sentence by sentence, has helped me form a theory on his writing style. First, ignore the modifiers, and focus on the basics of each sentence. That is the armature upon which all else hangs.

Generally, the nouns and verbs do most of his work. (cue Ann to come in and give me a well deserved "duh" at this point). Sometimes, Fitzgerald's modifiers are essential to filling out his image. Other times, like today, they seem to be placeholders chosen more how they sound and read than what they mean.

kentuckyliz said...

This is mysterious, like a 1984-style Cash for Clunkers clean-up crew. Your gas-consuming car is gray and stops working. Only when you get the car that runs on unicorn farts will your world take on color, and the ashy grey janitors with the dead grey cars in the grey cloud will fade away like a poorly remembered long-ago trip to England.

a SWVA liz said...

BDNYC said This project has forced me to reconsider Fitzgerald. I now think he's a terrible writer, whereas...

I couldn't agree more.

However this sentence reminds me of some of the scenes going north on the turnpike towards NYC. The flats and the dunes and the rubbish, burned out areas were desolate areas. This description I find strangely accurate about my experiences approaching NYC. Could it possibly have been the same in 1925??

Doesn't seem possible, but this description I find striking and to the point.

betamax3000 said...

I knew it was coming.

An Elevator Boy sentence, pure and simple.

Black Out Drunk agreed with the maudlin aspects.

Fitzgerald agreed with the defeated pessimism.

The homework was done yesterday: the test is now passed.

betamax3000 said...

To not acknowledge Black Out Drunk and Elevator Boy is to believe that Fitzgerald did all of this On Purpose.

Ha.

betamax3000 said...

"They followed them to their apartments, the ash-gray men with leaden spades, and they stirred up an impenetrable cloud, which screened their obscure operations on the corners of hidden streets before they faded through a door into warm darkness..."

betamax3000 said...

If it works, thank Elevator Boy.

WestVirginiaRebel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WestVirginiaRebel said...

"The lines of cars-Humvee-like SUVs, turtle-shaped sedans, crossovers looking like their awkward offspring-drive en masse from a post-apocalyptic New York City past burned-out devastation towards the welcoming warmth of the suburbs, moving in convoy-like fashion, grouped together for self-protection from whatever lurked in the wastes. The devastation was a reminder of what they had to return to the following day."

How's that for a literary turn? :)

Chip Ahoy said...

This sentence moves me (creakily, ghastly, crawlingly) and then stops me. Then moves me again.

a SWVA liz said...

Thank you Chip, love it.

creeley23 said...

This project of yours has forced me to reconsider Fitzgerald. I now think he's a terrible writer, whereas before I was impressed.

BDNYC: I understand. The Gatsby Project makes me question my respect for Fitzgerald too. I recommend going back to the book and reading a few pages to discover Fitzgerald really is a better and more normal writer than he appears from Althouse's ongoing selections.

Make no mistake -- what you are seeing here is more a function of Althouse's selecting than Fitzgerald's writing. She makes odd choices IMO, but then again, she also likes and encourages betamax.

From what she says, the project is ultimately not about Gatsby or Fitzgerald, but about her idea of fun.

creeley23 said...

Generally, the nouns and verbs do most of his work. (cue Ann to come in and give me a well deserved "duh" at this point). Sometimes, Fitzgerald's modifiers are essential to filling out his image. Other times, like today, they seem to be placeholders chosen more how they sound and read than what they mean.

Sometimes the modifiers are essential and other times they are placeholders?

In other words, this is not a well-crafted sentence, at least not at the level Fitzgerald is writing for.