As a reader and writer of literary fiction, I find it worthwhile to study sentences. I love the layers and textures present in carefully crafted syntax, the way a single sentence can tilt the axis of the Earth and light the world anew. This blog contains some sentences that have—in structure and content—struck me. Please scroll down for the complete collection of posts.
Copywrite Note: The purpose of this blog is educational and the posts include direct quotations from a very small portion of the larger artistic work. All quotations are clearly attributed. My intention is to celebrate sentences and highlight the work of great writers, all of which should qualify the quoted sentences as “fair use.”
This story centers on a group of women (mostly American) who, after losing their husbands, go to Japan to live as nuns. Issues of patriarchy, love, and death are explored.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “Before light has come and the little birds whose names we don’t know are fluttering and darting out of the eaves of the temple, one of the monks is hitting the ancient cast-iron bell” (122).
- “After all the grief, the panic of it, the savage emptiness of the house still cluttered with things, the tightening knot of friends and relatives who won’t leave us alone with their relentless buzzing concern—suddenly it is late and I am still up, prowling the house like an intruder in my own former life, and the idea comes: an image of elegant architecture, a raked garden, a line of monks with bent heads, the deep gong of a bell, the clean, chilly, minimalist promise of Japan. Why not? It has to be better than THIS, I think” (124).
- “The floors are hard, the work is hard. Aren’t you supposed to respect your elders in this country? He shrugs and smiles, putting up his hands. He has learned this very American gesture of absolving responsibility” (124).
- “The worst part is seeing the monks, smirking at us. We sweep and mop in angry silence. But late that night, I wake to a rasping sound and rise. I go to the window; it’s like my dream, the one where I see my husband off on a trip, and he wants me to run out and kiss him goodbye, but we’ve just fought and I won’t. I’m always going to the window and watching him leave, and I don’t know why I won’t bend, why I can’t make the cold center of myself soften” (125).
- “What is THIS? / This is watching the light creep into the window of a house that we know holds no warm breath but our own. This is waiting for an excuse to speak all day, to the bank teller, to the neighbor who is just trying to get a car seat into his minivan and doesn’t have time for you, standing on your lawn in your robe or in your Sunday best, hoping for just a little conversation. This is inviting the Jehovah’s Witnesses in and serving them cookies just to listen. This is going to the dentist more than you need to just to feel those warm latex fingers in your mouth, massaging your gums. It is looking at art or listening to your favorite songs and feeling puzzled by them, those things you loved suddenly bereft of meaning. This is looking down the long dark subway tunnel of your life and thinking, all right, I can do this, even if it is alone, if I just keep walking, keep rising and eating and sleeping and waking . . .” (126).
- “Grief, the roshi tells us, is like a fire that is licking at our bodies from the inside. Like anger, it stems from a kind of greed. We are clinging to our loved ones, to our former lives, like children cling to toys. We are desperate not to let go. This desperation is slowly eating us alive. It is a hungry and relentless fire” (127).
- “Our friends back home are a little horrified, we know, by what we’ve done to ourselves. But the moment someone becomes a widow, the world wants her to stop in time, to freeze exactly as she was. She must stay in the same house, read the same books, sit in the same chair. There’s something dangerous about a widow who continues to change and grow, who grabs out at the world, demanding something, instead of wilting quietly from it. We are looking to become. At night we can feel it in our bones. They groan like the skeletons of teenagers, changing their shape too fast to keep up” (128).
- “I married young, and marriage was a benevolent monster eating me from the inside. I never had to be anyone at all, as long as there was the monster there to care and feed” (129).
- “We walk on. It’s getting dark. The weather here is unpredictable and it has begun to snow. Our steps are more urgent now . . . All we can do is keep walking along the beach, looking out at the gray little houses in the dimming light. She can’t disappear. She is one of us. She wouldn’t leave us” (133).
(Note: This summary contains spoilers.) “The Lowland” is Shakespearian in its representation of family drama. Udayan (the radical and rebellious brother) is murdered by government forces when Subhash (the studious, rule-follower) is in the US furthering his education. After a brief relationship with an American woman, Subhash returns to Calcutta to reconnect with his mother and father only to find that they’ve shut out Udayan’s pregnant wife, Gauri. Feeling powerless and disconnected, Subhash makes the bold decision to marry Gauri and take her back to the US with him, where he’s working as a researcher. In the beginning of their marriage, both Subhash and Gauri agree that it’s best to pretend that Subhash is Bela’s father, not wanting her to know the truth about Udayan’s death. But Gauri becomes increasingly burdened by this lie and by the lack of intellectual stimulation that she experiences as a stay-at-home mom, so she leaves Subhash and Bella to become a scholar. The story climaxes when Subhash tells Bela, now pregnant, the truth about her family.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “While Subhash stayed in clear view, Udayan was disappearing: even in their two-room house, when he was a boy, he hid compulsively, under the bed, behind the doors, in the crate where winter quilts were stored. / He played this game without announcing it, spontaneously vanishing, sneaking into the back garden, climbing into a tree, forcing their mother, when she called and did not answer, to stop what she was doing” (10).
- “They laid out the pieces on the bed: the chassis, the capacitors, the various resistors, the speaker. Soldering the wires, working together on the task. When it was finally assembled, it looked like a little suitcase, with a squared-off handle. Made of metal, bound in black” (16).
- “Under their bed, against the wall, there was a can of red paint and a brush that had not been there before” (28).
- “Each day, in spite of its growing routine, he felt uncertain, improvisational. Here in this place surrounded by sea, he was drifting far from his point of origin” (40).
- “His satisfaction was in watching: its breast feathers drooping as it dipped its head toward the water, as it took slow strides on long, backward-bent legs” (45).
- “The sun was beating down and he lifted his hand as she approached, angling his head toward her face, forming a little canopy over their heads. The gesture made her feel alone with him, sheltered in that great crowd. Distinct from the pedestrians, afloat on the city’s swell” (61).
- “The hymns recounted the story of Durga being formed, and the weapons that were provided for each of her ten arms: sword and shield, bow and arrow. Axe, mace, conch shell, and discus. Indra’s thunderbolt, Shiva’s trident. A flaming dart, a garland of snakes” (83).
- “Only two people had come to receive him. A younger cousin of his father’s, Biren Kaka, and his wife. They were standing by a fruit vendor, unable to smile when they spotted him. He understood this diminished welcome, but he couldn’t understand why, after he’d traveled for more than two days, after he’d been away for more than two years, his parents were unwilling to come even this far to acknowledge his return. When he’d left India his mother had promised a hero’s welcome, a garland of flowers draped around his neck when he stepped off the train” (88).
- “She watched his arms flapping, his body leaping forward, seizing up before falling to the ground. There was the clean sound of the shots, followed by the sound of crows, coarsely calling, scattering” (105).
- “And it wasn’t simply cruelty. Their treatment of Gauri was deliberate, intended to drive her out. He thought of her becoming a mother, only to lose control of the child. He thought of the child being raised in a joyless house. / The only way to prevent it was to take Gauri away. It was all he could do to help her, the only alternative he could provide. And the only way to take her away was to marry her. To take his brother’s place and raise his child, to come to love Gauri as Udayan had. To follow him in a way that felt perverse, that felt ordained. That felt both right and wrong” (115).
- “In the light of early morning, he saw her hair unsprung from its customary knot, tensile, suspended like a serpent from the branch of a tree. She walked through the living room as if he were not there” (138).
- “Inside of her, surrounded by her, he worried that she would never accept him, that she would never fully belong to him, even as he breathed in the smell of her hair, and clasped her breast in his hand” (147).
- “That summer evening formed a vivid tableau that seemed just to have occurred. She recalled the rain on the way to the hospital, the face of the nurse who’d stood at her side, the view of the marina out the window. The feel of the hospital gown against her skin, a needle inserted into the top of her hand. Just yesterday, it seemed, she had held Bela and at looked at her for the first time. She remembered the ballast of pregnancy, suddenly missing. She remembered astonishment that such a specific-looking being, contained for so long within her, had emerged” (153).
- “In the afternoons, following mornings of bright sun, came the rumble of thunder, like great sheets of rippling tin. The approach of dark-rimmed clouds. Bela saw them lowering swiftly like a vast gray curtain, obscuring the day’s light” (192).
- “He is teaching her to identify things, they are playing a game: one point for a mussel shell, two for scallop, three for crab. The plovers, darting single-mindedly from the dunes toward the waves, get five” (218).
- “Her dedication to bettering the world was something that would fulfill her, he imagined, for the rest of her life. Still, he was unable to set aside his concern. She had eschewed the stability he had worked to provide. She’d forged a rootless path, one which seemed precarious to him. One which excluded him. But, as with Gauri, he’d let her go. / A loose confederation of friends, people she spoke of fondly but never introduced him to, provided her with an alternate form of family” (224-225).
- “Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she had put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night. She had no wish to overcome it. Rather, it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship, more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experienced in either of her marriages” (237).
- “Her life had been pared down to its solitary components, its self-reliant code. Her uniform of black slacks and tunics, the books and the laptop computer she needed to do her job. The car she used to get from one place to another” (240).
- “He was increasingly aware these days of how much he owned, of the ongoing effort his life required. The thousands of trips to the grocery store he had made, all the heaping bags of food, first paper, then plastic, now canvas sacks brought from home, unloaded from the trunk of the car and unpacked and stored in cupboards, all to sustain a single body” (252).
- “She lives with ten other people in a house meant for one family. There are people writing screenplays, people designing jewelry, people whose computer start-ups have failed. People who recently graduated from college, and older people with pasts they don’t care to discuss” (255).
- “Then again, how could he expect Bela to be interested in marriage, given the example he and Gauri had given? They were a family of solitaries. They had collided and dispersed. This was her legacy” (262).
- “She refused to believe him. She thought something had happened to him, that he’d lost his mind, that perhaps he’d suffered a stroke. She kneeled in front of him on the sofa, gripping him by the shoulders, inches from his face. / Stop saying that, she said. He sat, passive, in her clutches, and yet he felt as if he were striking her. He was aware of the brute force of the truth, worse than any physical blow. At the same time he had never felt more pathetic, more frail” (266).
- “Around Bela her mother had never pretended. She had transmitted an unhappiness that was steady, an ambient signal that was fixed. It was transmitted without words. And yet Bela was aware of it, as one is aware of a mountain. Immovable, insurmountable. / Now there was a third parent, pointed out to her like a new star her father would teach her to identify in the night sky. Something that had been there all along, contributing a unique point of light. That was dead but newly alive to her. That had both made her and made no difference” (268).
- “Too much is within her grasp now. First at the computers she would log on to at the library, replaced by the wireless connection she has at home. Glowing screens, increasingly foldable, portable, companionable, anticipating any possible question the human brain might generate. Containing more information than anyone has need for. / So much of it, she observes, is designed to eliminate mystery, to minimize surprise. There are maps to indicate where one is going, images of hotel rooms one might stay in. The delayed status of a plane one need not rush to board. Links to people, famous or anonymous—people one might reunite with, or fall in love with, or hire for a job. A revolutionary concept, already taken for granted. Citizens of the Internet dwell free from hierarchy. There is room for everyone, given that there are no spatial constraints. Udayan might have appreciated this” (275-276).
- “They were simple questions, ones that Bela did not mind answering when posed by strangers. But coming from her mother each felt outrageous. Each was an affront” (309).
- “After the bypass, turning after a fancy hospital, a few familiar things. The train tracks at Ballygunge, the tangled intersection at Gariahat. Life pouring out of crooked lanes, seated on broken steps. Hawkers, selling clothes, selling slippers and purses, lining the streets” (315).
- “She was unprepared for the landscape to be so altered. For there to be no trace of that evening, forty autumns ago. / Scarcely two years of her life, begun as a wife, concluded as a widow, an expectant mother. An accomplice in a crime” (320).
- “The next day when they step out of the house they encounter a group bidding an unknown villager farewell, mourners in dark clothing spreading down the sloping street. For a moment it is as if they, too, are part of the funeral. There is no sense of its boundaries, where it begin or ends, whom it grieves. Then they pass, respectfully, out of its shadow” (330).
A bildungsroman that centers on Ava Bigtree and her two siblings—brother (Kiwi) and sister (Ossie). The Bigtrees, who live on an island and own a gator-wrestling theme park, fall on hard times when their mother dies and their park is no longer profitable. After Hiloloa Bigtree’s death, her orphaned kids seek solace in an ever-changing world as they leave their small island and face separate struggles. Of all the characters, Ava—the youngest—is the most determined to restore honor to Swamplandia! The ending, while hopeful, remains open.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “But my sister, Osceola, was born snowy—not a weak chamomile blond but pure frost, with eyes that vibrated somewhere between maroon and violet” (6).
- “The Beginning of the End can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it” (8).
- “He had the bellicose dignity of a kid who refuses to excuse or even to acknowledge his own extreme ugliness” (28).
- “Then something shifted in our house’s atmosphere, and I felt outnumbered. Ghosts silked into our bedroom like cold water. Ossie sucked in her breath and twisted in the yellow sheets, just like my fantasy picture of a hurricane being born” (43).
- “But I couldn’t shake the image, crates and crates of sunken black oranges. My heart gone wormy and rotten with fear” (51).
- “The TV documentary I was watching was so boring that it felt like taking medicine, a thick syrup of information, a good antidote to thoughts” (75).
- “Inside the World of Darkness, Time happened in a circle. Shifts were nine hours, and the nine hours contracted or accordioned outward depending on several variables that Kiwi had catalogued: difficulty of task, boredom of task, degree to which task humiliates me personally” (82).
- “Spagehetti Surprise was a simple equation for indigestion, invented by Mom: noodles tossed like a blond wig over all your leftovers. Noodles as a culinary disguise for gross, inedible root vegetables: surprise! In a trash can this dish was raccoon kryptonite; even Grandpa couldn’t finish it” (118).
- “He rode the rails southward on a voyage that has the fitful logic of sleep interrupted: suns set and suns rose. Forests dispersed into beaches and regrouped again in mountain passes. Lightning sent down its white spider legs outside the dining-car windows and crawled up the pine trunks, trailing fires” (131).
- “These buzzards were nothing like the red-headed turkey vultures they’d been seeing since Long Glade; these were huge birds, black and wattled, and with their wings folded they made Louis think of the funeral umbrellas dripping rain along the stone walls of the St. Agnes Church in Clarinda” (146).
- “She set off across the muck as briskly as a mainland woman who is late for her ferry. Her footprints filled with groundwater and as I watched a dozen tiny lakes opened between us” (161).
- “So I did believe, finally, in the ghost of Louis Thanksgiving. I believed, in a waterfall rush, in the world of ghosts. An underworld—I pictured blue mist, rocks so huge the dredge barge rolled between them like a marble” (187).
- “What struck me was a black-and-white photograph of a teenage girl in an asylum, bare-kneed in a claw-footed tub with her hair in a kind of translucent cap, like a shower cap but tight to her scalp. She had unblemished skin and these wafer-light eyes. You could see her blond hair through the cap, wrapped around metal curlers like waves of leashed, disciplined thoughts. The scary part was that you couldn’t tell, from this girl’s scrubbed and ordinary face, that anything was the matter with her” (190-191).
- “Even in her trances, even while possessed, my sister was very shrewd about her prospects. A fantasy would collapse like a wave against the rocks of her intelligence. Madness, as I understood it from books, meant a person who was open to the high white whine of everything” (197).
- “This category “white” gave him a whistling fear, not unlike agoraphobia. “White” made Kiwi Bigtree picture a vast Artic plain, a word in which one single person could never survive” (208).
- “If a word is just a container for feeling, or a little matchstick that you strike against yourself—a tiny, fiery summons—then probably I could have said anything, called any name, who knows? I didn’t have a normal kid’s ideas of the Lord as an elderly mainland guy on a throne. The God I prayed to I thought of as the mother, the memory of love. She was my own mother sometimes, baggy-eyed and smiling in the Chief’s heavy canvas work clothes in the morning, one of the Chief’s cigarettes hanging from her mouth” (223).
- “It gave me a little chill. Something about his grey eyes seemed urgent and vacant all at once. We had known each other for hours and miles now, but I thought he looked even stranger, even more like a stranger, as if the currents that governed such things were blowing him backward” (224).
- “Whip began to motor over; above me, the Bird Man put on a big grin that made his face unrecognizable to me. It rejiggered his features so that they were at their most ordinary; even his eyes seemed pale and normal” (252).
- “Red orb after red orb floated dreamily over their car roof. Vijay’s huge sneaker stayed flat on the accelerator. Stoplights swayed yellow and green over the Loomis intersections, like air plants, the mainlanders’ epiphytes” (265).
- “Kiwi, who considered himself a grammarian of human emotion, knew that anger required a direct object” (270).
- “Now that Kiwi had at last made it to a suburb it was easy to want the swamp. What was this fresh hell? The World of Darkness seemed like a cozy and benign place compared to the sprawl of these stucco boxes, these single-family houses” (287).
- “The Bird Man rubbed at the creases on his forehead. Why did adults always do that? I wondered. What if a face really worked like that, like rumpled trousers, and you could smooth out your bad thoughts from the outside in?” (297).
- “Like an animal, a secret can develop a self-preserving intelligence. Shaglike, mute and thick, a knowledge with fur: your secret” (331).
- “Sometimes you are able to keep moving because you are not really yourself anymore. Your entire brain can shrink to one pinhead of cognition, one star in a night. I was acquainted with it, this bright spot, because once or twice before it had taken over during my fiercest wrestling matches. Encapsulated in this pinhead lived a brute, a swimmer, a thirst, a hunger, a fire-hater, a grass jumper” (333-334).
- “Kiwi had a sudden urge to topple his grandfather, to dump the elder overboard—maybe that would shake something loose in there or reconnect a wire. What was the point of growing so aged and limp that your mind couldn’t make a fist around a name?” (350).
- “Her dead body floating. Her dead face, the mask of it, rising and falling on the sea’s uneasy breath / Panthers found and finished her in the cattails. Wind unstitched her skeleton. Weeds sprayed outward from the heart-shaped wreck of her pelvis; a sinkhole opened beneath her and gave way with the suddenness of caved ice, swallowing her bones” (361).
- “Our mom, as stern and all-seeing as she could often seem, would do us this great favor of pretending to be credulous when we faked sick. Mom cooed sincerely over our theatrical moanings and coughs. She would push our hair back from our cool liar’s scalps and bring us noodles and icy mainland colas as if happy for an excuse to love us like this” (394).
Marie, a mother with a painful past, tries to adopt puppies from a sketchy household. Throughout the story, Marie contrasts her experience as a child with the experiences that she bestows upon her own children, a juxtaposition that adds depth to the piece.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “Twice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn put her in mind of a haunted house—not a haunted house she had ever actually seen but the mythical one that sometimes appeared in her mind (with adjacent graveyard and cat on a fence) whenever she saw the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect etc., etc.,—and she wanted to make sure that, if the kids had a corresponding mythical haunted house that appeared in their minds whenever they saw the brilliance of the etc., etc., it would come up now, so that they could all experience it together, like friends, like college friends on a road trip, sans pot, ha ha ha!” (31).
- “Speaking of Halloween, she remembered last year, when their cornstalk column had tipped their shopping cart over. Gosh, how they’d laughed at that! Oh, family laughter was golden; she’d had none of that in her childhood, Dad being so dour and Mom so ashamed” (32).
- “So her mother could go right ahead and claim that she was spoiling the kids. These were not spoiled kids. These were well-loved kids. At least she’d never left one of them standing in a blizzard for two hours after a junior-high dance. At least she’d never drunkenly snapped at one of them, ‘I hardly consider you college material.’ At least she’d never locked one of them in a closet (a closet!) while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor” (34).
- “But if no one took the pup he’d do it. He’d have to. Because his feeling was, when you said you were going to do a thing and didn’t do it, that was how kids got into drugs” (36).
- “Well, wow, what a super field trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the filth, the mildew smell, the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an inflatable candy cane inexplicably sticking out of it), and although some might have been disgusted (by the spare tire on the dining-room table, by the way the glum mother dog, the presumed in-house pooper, was now digging her rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a sitting position, splay-legged, moronic look of pleasure on her face), Marie realized (resisting the urge to rush to the sink and wash her hands, in part because the sink had a basketball in it) that what this really was, was deeply sad. / Please do not touch anything, please do not touch, she said to Josh and Abbie, but just in her head, wanting to give the children a chance to observe her being democratic and accepting, and afterward they could all wash up at the half-remodeled McDonald’s as long as they just please please kept their hands out of their mouths, and God forbid they should rub their eyes” (38-39).
- “He rose to a sitting position, railed against the chain, whipped it back and forth, crawled to a bowl of water, and, lifting it to his lips, took a drink: a drink from a dog’s bowl. / Josh joined her at the window. / She let him look. / He should know that the world was not all lessons and iguanas and Nintendo. It was also this muddy simple boy tethered like an animal” (40).
- “The boy came to the fence. If only she could say to him, with a single look, Life will not necessarily always be like this. Your life could suddenly blossom into something wonderful. It can happen. It happened to me. / But secret looks, looks that conveyed a world of meaning with the subtle blah blah blah—that was all bullshit. What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda Berling, a very no-nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that fat mother’s thick head spin” (41).
A suspensive story told from the third-person limited perspective in which the protagonist, Nora, wrestles with a past trauma. Written in the present tense, a decision that heightens the urgency and suspense of the narrative, the past is revealed to Nora (and the reader) through therapy and psychotic breaks.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “Panic tightens her chest and chokes her breathing. In front of her, a girl’s face, a wild numinous face with startling blue eyes, a face floating on top of shapeless drapes of purples and blues where arms and legs should have been” (3).
- “She doesn’t like the smell of this room—lavender air freshener disguising grief, invisible clouds of uncertainty lingering and descending on those who sit here, infiltrating their heads and lips and words” (15).
- “For a long while, Nora waits, stock-still in the dead silence, staring at the motionless body, the belly and breasts flattened, the head turned unnaturally to the side, tangled auburn hair obscuring the eyes, nothing moving at all” (25).
- “But lately, the anxiety was creeping back in, stealing her sleep, making her hard to get along with, making her pretend things—smiling while Fiona poured Cheerios and milk into her bowl, spilling half of it all over the table, and biting her tongue when she watched the evening news with Paul, him flipping channels and cursing at Clinton’s inauguration and Albright’s confirmation as the first female secretary of state” (60).
- “She’d read hundreds of saint stories in school, and their deaths always terrified her. All the flames and burning faces and sizzling hair and hearts and heads stabbed onto stakes and screams for mercy while thousands of faces watched. There were always facing watching” (90).
- “And then David is saying things that don’t make sense. Things about stolen money and orange shoe boxes and boxes of confession, and she is trying to listen, trying to understand, but it’s all too much. Too much. Too many pieces careening through her mind, smashing reason and logic to smithereens” (108).
- “On her way to the meeting, things are magnified. Students just released from classrooms pour into the hallway, sweaty, in various moods and behaving with conspicuous nuances. Mouths open and close, and sounds come at her scratching flats and sharps. Arms wave loosely. Lockers slam. Slam over and over again, the deafening slam slam slam and she wants to clap her hands to her ears, but of course she doesn’t” (130).
- “Something ugly and huge pushes and thrashes inside Nora’s head and fury forces its way out and the enormous hand of it slaps the heart from Fiona’s tiny hand and the heart flies across the room, hits the closet, and drops to the floor” (139).
- “Nora opens her mouth. Forms a ‘No’ with her lips. Breathes hard into the ‘No.’ She hears the air moving, feels her lungs push it out, but something shoves back into her throat, and there are no words, no words, no words, no words” (161).
- “Dark rises within her. Rises and swells. Rises and gathers force and becomes fire becomes blood becomes sound and the sound forces her body out of the bed and she begins running around and around the room arm and anger flailing pounding on walls and doors mouth open wide open wide and something fierce and violent rips open her heart rips her body open until she is not a woman not a girl only a screaming mouth a screaming heart a screaming body” (195).
- “And in the haze: How much more can I take until I’m planted in a wheelchair, staring at the same spot on the floor all day, eyes flat as stamps, murmuring silvery syllables that slip away like fish into an unfathomable ocean?” (196).
A story about a battle between Silas and Frank, brothers whose feud is rooted in the fate of the family ranch. The story opens after Silas, a rugged traditionalist, shoots Frank, his business-minded brother. The tension of the book lies in the reader’s eventual discovery of the events that preceded the murder. The story ends with a standoff between Silas and Lena (Frank’s wife), after a surprising plot twist is revealed.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “The road seemed to take on some significance, as if it were a boundary line—the first of many—and now that he was past it, he was that much farther away from what had been his life. But Silas also knew that it was just a road, same as any other, and that he was only covering ground. Even if he hadn’t the foggiest notion where he was going” (4-5).
- “The animals were her religion. Boyfriends, girlfriends, education, the prospect of a more reliable income—all of these had been laid down and sacrificed to the equestrian gods” (12).
- “He and his horse lunched in a green-grassed grove of birch trees two hundred yards off a winding, slope-shouldered road. The plan had been for him to move inland, where fewer people might know him, away from the equestrian world that centered nearer the coast, but there in that strand of trees, he felt a new sense of unease bloom in his gut” (24).
- “But of course that was simplifying. Storytelling. Truth was that their dissolution was gradual and sometimes numbingly slow. It was in the works for years. Decades” (43).
- “But above this ruthlessness was a thin skin of civility” (63).
- “Lena imagined that most young people went through a certain process of redefining family. You grow up and your world consists of little more than your parents, maybe siblings, grandparents at a stretch. You get married and you love your spouse, but family is still those old parents, siblings, grandparents. It isn’t until you have kids that you understand that you’ve created a new unit, that the old definition of family has been altered” (64).
- “As his life leached away, soaking into his bed and sheets and blankets, as the few breaths he had left escaped his lungs one by one, the boys saw him less and less” (68).
- “It was when they were together, though, whether in a period of peace or war, that they drank with such abandon” (83).
- “Frank got to them, boots in hand, his feet socked with sand” (88).
- “And from there it got bad. Frank tagged his brother twice in the ribs before Silas recovered the upper hand, straddled his brother’s torso, and laid fist after fist into his face and head and shoulders. All the while cursing him in every fashion one could imagine. People screamed. The bartender was on the phone. Frank managed to get out from under Silas and issue two sickening blows to his face before a posse of men took hold of the two of them from behind, pulled them apart. Both men were wet with blood and saliva and sweat. Both chests heaved with hatred” (90-91).
- “He hadn’t talked about his brother in months, and without that cloud hanging over them they became what Lena had always wanted them to be: a happy couple working and raising their son and slowly, quietly getting older” (113).
- “He’d gone years without exchanging a single word with his brother, but Frank had always been there. And now he wasn’t. Silas’s mind was hurled back to the days when he and Frank would ride through the great, wet, fern-strewn woods of the San Geronimo Valley, passing hours upon hours of their childhood traversing trails and trotting across streams and chucking rocks and generally being boys and brothers, trusting each other instinctually, loving each other implicitly” (125-126).
- “And with that Lena understood something that had eluded her through the years of the two men’s feuding: that it really was all based on nothing. There had been moments—that night with the hat, the selling of Ace, the shooting, the blister beetles, as well as whatever had been done without her knowing, both before and after she’d entered the world of the Van Loys—but none of those occasions, not even when added together, fully explained the war between the brothers” (129).
- “This guilt wedged itself in her gut and dislodged something” (143).
- “He rode on until the jagged mountains morphed into easy-rolling hills, until the sun was just peeking over those hills behind him, until he spied the coastal fog bank hanging squat in the distant sky, until he could smell the fishy wind and hear the aberrant whooshing of cars down 101” (157).
- “He couldn’t keep from it. Sitting in the chair outside his trailer, the chair in which Frank had set his bones just a few nights prior, or riding atop any one of his half-dozen horses—circling the arena, or loping and galloping across the trails cutting across his land—he tried to work out the specifics of a murder. Gun. Knife. Explosives. Poison. Push him off a cliff. Push him off a boat. How the fuck was he supposed to get him on a boat? Make it look like a suicide. Make it look random, a robbery. Do it himself. Outsource it. Pin it on some other sorry son of a bitch. Plenty of folks Silas wouldn’t mind getting rid of, as long as he was at it. Other trainers. Stable owners. Fuckers who mistakenly thought they were better than Silas Van Loy” (167).
- “Frank stood stone still save for the unsteady rise and fall of his chest. What chaos lived within the silence of that predawn. What dissonance rang through Silas’s head. Though he couldn’t have said just how, he knew that the end of his life had begun” (172).
- “Silas removed his boots and walked down into the surf. The pain of the cold shot through past his knees, but it served only to elevate the strange, black euphoria that had overtaken him. He sensed that he was not standing merely at the edge of a continent, but at the precipice of death itself” (173).
- “She wanted to kill him, her husband’s murderer, but she struggled to reconcile the man who shot Frank with the one who now caressed an injured animal” (183).
- “How many nights had Lena dreamed of Silas? How often had she thought of Frank? The questions were ludicrous. How many molecules made up the air? How many atoms locked together to construct the earth? It was all immeasurable—her past and present, her days and nights, her love and anger and grief” (188).
- “It told her nothing, of course, but what she’d already known, that they were bonded, those brothers, in a way she’d always nearly admired. Hatred, after all, did not flare up from a void. There must have been something there in the first place. Love. Passion, even. And this was what led to Frank’s death, their mutual commitment to each other over all else” (191).
Set in Singapore in the 1920, “The Moonlight Palace” is a novella that explores the often blurry and always complex web of cultural heritage. Agnes, the young female protagonist, who is the last surviving member of her royal family, lives in a crumbling palace with a diverse cast of characters and an equally diverse set of suitors. Issues of loyalty, greed, and imperialism are explored in this story.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “Unlike friends and schoolmates, who share exciting flying dreams, where they sail away over the tiled rooftops through surging gray clouds beyond tiny Singapore, in my own dreams I skim low through the rooms of the palace, barely above the ground. I see the patterned carpets, the wooden floorboards worn to the smoothness of satin. But never have I risen above the level of the palace ceiling, not even in my dreams” (1).
- “I had not finished my history assignment for the night, but I fell asleep with the book in my hand” (18).
- “If you think you have come to an unhappy ending, it is not the true end. Keep going awhile” (26).
- “No one had a better eye for beauty than the blind man” (32).
- “Wei’s face was bruised and swollen, and there was blood slowly seeping out of the corner of his mouth. He pressed a handkerchief to the wound, and every few minutes one of the guards brought him a fresh handkerchief and chips of ice. That was the strangest part, I thought—to do this to another human being, and then bring him clean linen and ice” (54).
- “I expected grandfather to stand up and walk away with Brown. I had forgotten that he was confined to that chair. So many facts of our life slipped from my mind that night—our extreme helplessness, our poverty, the impossibility of our whole situation” (59).
- “Because we never had a Christmas tree, all of our decorations were left over from Chinese festivals, complimented by a few bright items I managed to salvage from Deepavali” (71).
- “With our silly crepe paper hats on, the tips of the hats drooping, we looked like inmates at an imbecile institution, or an inebriate asylum. What a foolish holiday Christmas was!” (77).
- “Geoffrey, a handsome, pale specter, looked out of place among these Singaporean high-school girls. It was as if a man from inside a moving picture had stepped down among us, bringing with him all of the background noise and music, the white light of Hollywood, California” (103).
- “I learned for the first time that when we lose the people closest to us, we tend to become more like them—as if to fill immediately the unbearable lack they have left behind. We take on their habits, their mannerisms, sometimes even their style of dress” (114).
- “I lived in perpetual dread of my former suitor moving his oily self onto our property. Everything I’d found attractive in him now turned my stomach. The unnatural color of his eyes. His wavy yellow hair, which was probably dyed. The idea that he might have any claim against us made me ill. But I steeled myself for the confrontation that was coming. He would not simply skulk away, I knew” (117).
- “I slipped back into my accustomed place at the paper. Strangely enough, I found it comforting to work with grown men who ignored me almost completely. Ink-stained, disheveled, balding, foul-mouthed, sweaty, heads down, they rushed from story to story, deadline to deadline” (121).
- “They say that the ocean is always calm and still, many fathoms down, no matter how wildly it may churn on the surface. I discovered a similar calm in myself as I walked and walked around, in long, looping parabolas. And it’s a lucky thing, too, for one more hurdle lay just ahead” (131).
- “Holding the note, I strode to the front door and opened it, the fragrance of the mimosas rising up as fresh as mango, the two-toned call of the night bird, the koel, springing from the riverbank to Jurong Hill” (164).