One About One: Part 2

by William T. Vandemark

Don DeLillo wrote: “One truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language.”

Can the same thing be said about a writer’s connection to the work of another? In Part One of One About One, writers were asked to write one sentence about one sentence they love. The list continues here. Take a look at the swings and beats that charm the following writers.

 

“That way is rump of skunk and madness.”

Neil Gaiman: (Although I always misremember it as “that was lies rump of skunk and madness”.) It is the final sentence of R.A. Lafferty’s short story “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne”, a story about changing history and about the effects that such history-changing actions have upon observers, and is a warning that there are paths better left unwalked.

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“Something very much like nothing anyone had ever seen before came trotting down the stairs and crossed the room.  ~James Thurber, The 13 Clocks.

Lucius Shepard: More than fifty years after reading it for the first and only time, I come back to this sentence again and again, still trying to envision what that something was.

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“He suspected her of profound sorceries.” ~Ben Okri, Starbook.

Nnedimma Okorafor: This sentence made me put the rather serious book down, laugh really hard, write the quote on a piece of paper and tape it at the bottom of my computer screen where I could look at it every day and chuckle.

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“These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.” ~Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country.

Eric James Stone: That sentence is implication-filled yet simple, and it is lovely beyond any singing of it.

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`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.  ~ Lewis Carroll, “Jaberwocky.”

Cat Rambo: The first sentence of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” will always be the essence of poetry and fantasy for me, with its words reflecting traditional storytelling in the distortions of a fun-house mirror.

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“Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish, and even more absurd because their actors persist in fancying them full of meaning and purpose as the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft, “The Silver Key.”

Matthew Kressel: I love how Mr. Lovecraft is able to evoke ineffable cosmic grandeur and reduce that to utter significance in one deft stroke, as if he’s begging the reader to cry out in rebellion against such terrors.

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“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ~Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Vylar Kaftan: What readers want is conflict, struggle, and change; why write about people who already have everything they truly want?

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“The most winning characteristic of the rather harsh Cetian temperament was curiosity, inopportune, and inexhaustible curiosity; Cetians died eagerly, curious as to what came next.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest.

Nancy Kress: This is the perfect use of figurative language to deepen characterization.

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“We do not have to dabble in a place which he preferred to keep secret.” ~T.H. White, “The Ill-Made Knight,” The Once and Future King.

Karen Joy Fowler: This sentence, from my favorite part of my favorite book, reminds me that every character must be permitted a secret space into which neither reader nor author should go.

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“He was born with a gift for laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.” ~Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche.

Paul Park: The first sentence of the book, it showed me that the rhythms of prose can be as careful as the rhythms of poetry.

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“The snow’s a lady . . . and, like the rest of her sex, though delightful in her fall (to those who enjoy her), once she has fallen her effect is depressing, particularly in Piccadilly.” ~John Collier, His Monkey Wife (1930)

or one other, perhaps:

“For the heart is, in a sense, like the Prince of Wales; we would not have it cut in stone, yet how pathetic it is, when, as at Wembley, we see it modeled in butter.”  ~John Collier, His Monkey Wife (1930).

John Kessel: What delights me in both of these is the extremity of the metaphor presented, its absurdity, yet its precision and (in the context of the story) appropriateness, the high language preceding the vertiginous fall of the final phrase.

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Kathe Koja writes: It’s hilariously difficult to choose one sentence from Anthony Burgess’ sublime novel of Christopher Marlowe, A Dead Man In Deptford – all its riches dog-eared, page after page after page – but I’ll pick the first one as its threshold of pleasure:

“You must and will suppose (fair or foul reader, but where’s the difference?) that I suppose a heap of happenings that I had no eye to eye knowledge of or concerning.”

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The first sentence I noticed as a sentence was this one of Ray Bradbury’s (I won’t list the story because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it, but it’s one of his best):

“It was when the jellyfish called you by name…”

Mark Laidlaw: That spoiled me for all stories that didn’t have twist endings in the last line, and it was when as a young writer I realized with a sudden shock how effective a few words put in the right order could be.

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“Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come [to] wound the autumnal city.”~ Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren.

Hal Duncan: Maybe this is cheating and utterly poncy, picking a sentence split in the text so that the ending of it opens the book and the opening of it ends the book, but that shard of a phrase, “to wound the autumnal city,” exploded in my adolescent imagination the first time I read it, still carries a poetic import I can’t describe, and with the fearless experimentalism of the scissioning of the sentence, the looping of the narrative back into itself, Delany’s words will always be, for me, a sort of emblem of what audacity can achieve.

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Do you have one sentence you love? Feel free to add it as a comment, provide the source, and explain in one sentence why you love it.

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William T. Vandemark is the editor of the SFWA Blog. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in NatureApexIGMS, and numerous anthologies.  He chases storms, prospects for fulgurites, and teaches multimedia at community centers for the City of Seattle.
Interested in contributing to the SFWA Blog? Email: [email protected]

2 Responses

  1. Karl

    “The doorknob opened a blue eye and looked at him.” — Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, ”The Fairy Chessmen”

    The first sentence in the story… and really there’s nothing more that need be said about it.

    And for something completely different:

    “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” — James Joyce, “The Dead”

    The last sentence in the story, and it gets me every time I read it.