“Here among the quieter lanes he breathed the fumes of blossoms and rot, smouldering charcoal, frying food, and heard the distant roar of jets and the drumming of helicopter gunships, and even the thousand-pound bombs exploding thirty kilometers away, not so much a sound as an intestinal fact – it was there, he felt it, it thudded in his soul.”Tree of Smoke (p.196), Denis Johnson
Early in his story, some 50 pages into the novel, The Kid, our anti-hero, and the party of U.S Army filibusters he accompanies into Mexico, are attacked by a horde of American Indians and so begins one of the longest sentences in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:
A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.
Notice how this sentence, 246 words long, functions like a long shot in film, capturing detail upon detail to the point of overwhelming us, as though we were among the filibusters watching in terror as this horde descends upon us. The length matches the action. If Cormac instead paused the attack with one full stop after another we would lose the feeling of impending death he so brilliantly conveys.
… of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner.John Updike, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“
I love this sentence. I love the sound of it and how Updike uses punctuation to balance what would otherwise be a cluttered and breathless sentence. Notice the repetitive s sound. In phonetics, the study of how we make the sounds of speech, this s sound is called a hissing sibilant and here it’s part of a larger literary technique called consonance, the repetition of consonants between words. (Notice also the assonance between baseball and graceful.) We’ll never know for sure how conscious Updike was of these techniques but I’d wager at that point in his career he had a feel for their use and it wasn’t necessary to be conscious of them.
Though I avoid adjectives on the advice of many writers because they’re often used to disguise bad nouns, I think Updike chooses wisely here. I’ve never seen a game of baseball but I imagine, unlike football (or soccer in the states) where the action is constant from start to end, baseball includes many pauses which Updike eloquently describes as “graceful intermittences of action”.
I’ve never been to America but, if I ever do, I think I’ll see a game, and maybe get a vegan hot dog.