March 12, 2013

A non-"Gatsby" sentence.

You know I have this "Gatsby" project where I blog a single sentence — out of context — from "The Great Gatsby" and we analyze it however we want — its narrative arc, its language, its weirdness, our own weirdness, whatever. I'm starting a new thing — we'll see what happens with this — where I give you a sentence from something else I'm reading. I'm not sure what kinds of sentence will make it into this project, but I'm going to start with this strikingly long sentence...

...from a writer I greatly admire, David Rakoff. The book is "Half Empty":
Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness — a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest Self which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair — then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person you’d hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow-barker variation on “adorable,” even though you’d been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one… well, it conjures up feelings that are best described as mixed, to say the least.

30 comments:

RazorSharpSundries said...

I thought you were gonna say, "You know I have this Gatsby hang-up . . ." ha, ha. But you didn't.

Robert Cook said...

Now that's a good sentence!

Ann Althouse said...

"Now that's a good sentence!"

I trust you've diagrammed it.

RazorSharpSundries said...

Trust, but verify. Please don't hate me. I couldn't help myself. I couldn't resist. Also, don't you dare diagram me into your narrow boxes of grammatical rules and regulations. Oh, I fear I've done it again. I don't really mean it. I love you. I hope your brows aren't Mia Farrowed.

Ann Althouse said...

Uh... I was talking to Robert.

Balfegor said...

The "well, it" helps render the sentence smoothly readable. Otherwise, the suspension between subject (confirmation) and verb (conjures) would be too long. We're not Germans.

Other than the "well, it," I think it's grammatical, though.

edutcher said...

A run-on worthy of William Faulkner.

traditionalguy said...

Rackoff is a true genius. He is only 4'8" tall. But the mind that he talks with must be 10'tall.

Half Empty is read by David himself on Audible. He makes you laugh, cry and feel a cathartic release in every chapter.

campy said...

tl;dr

F.U. Scott Fitzgerald said...

He said "No comment."

rcommal said...

Heh. Now THAT would be a fun sentence to assign my son for diagramming. Heck, it could be the final exam on the topic. Or, at least, a goal to strive to reach.

rcommal said...

I just had my son read aloud that sentence. He made it all the way to the ellipsis before taking a breath and stumbled over only one word (melancholia) along the way. It's a start! LOL.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Those who live alone should keep a softball in the kitchen because, as Mr. Rakoff well observes, the back of a kitchen chair is not your friend.

Carl said...

Lame. Faulkner, but without the devilish hook at the end that, after sufficient exposure, makes reading Faulknerian sentences stir increasing anxiety and imagination as they uncoil and you wonder what fiendish twist lies at the end.

This one just ends with an uninteresting thud, and now I want my 1.8 seconds back. I wouldn't read another overstuffed sausage from the same author. This is just the verbal equivalent of lens flare overused.

Astro said...

I will confirm that I have mixed feelings about that sentence.

Robert Cook said...

I haven't done sentence diagramming since 7th grade--which was sometime around the "summer of love," so no, I wouldn't remember how to diagram even the simplest of sentences today.

Freeman Hunt said...

When we were children we used to do Christmas at my mother's house on Christmas Eve. Someone would drive us around to look at lights, and when we returned to her house, the presents would be there. One year, she choked on a chocolate truffle while we were gone, and she had to do that back of a chair move. Luckily she was successful.

Imagine children coming home to celebrate Christmas and finding their mother dead on the floor, killed by a Christmas treat!

sydney said...

That long winded sentence describes just about every comedian on this earth.

sydney said...

Shorter version- "Your smile is just a frown turned upside down."

wyo sis said...

I could absolutely see Chip Ahoy writing that sentence.

rcocean said...

If you're a genius like Faulkner or Hemingway, you can break every rule in the Goddamn book.

Everyone else, not so much.

rcocean said...

"I could absolutely see Chip Ahoy writing that sentence."

As a joke my friend, as a joke.

rcocean said...

If you're a genius like Faulkner or Hemingway, you can break every rule in the Goddamn book.

Everyone else, not so much.

dbp said...

I am tempted to say, TL;DR but I did plough through it all.

His point could have been made in less than 1/4 the space. Maybe the function of the long sentence is to keep you thinking about the subject for two seconds rather than one half second.

wyo sis said...

Of course.

wyo sis said...

Of course. It's the style not the substance. If there is any substance. I can't understand what he's getting at.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair "

Replace 'Heimlich maneuver' with 'the Michael Hutchence Rope Trick' and it might make more sense.


To David Carradine.

rcommal said...

Musically, it's sort of like Chopin in some cases.

(So, shoot me: I like Chopin. Palladian, for one example, would so object to my appreciation of Chopin. Yet still I do like and appreciate Chopin. And also Palladian, among examples.)

Robert Cook said...

"His point could have been made in less than 1/4 the space."

His point wasn't just to make his point, but to express it humorously and artfully. Writing is not just about the what but also the how.

traditionalguy said...

Rackoff is an actor who happens to write too.

I think of Half Empty as dialogue in a one man play, not an instruction manual written for today's digital brainiacs.