Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler c. 2016 (237 pages—Hogarth)

This book is part of a series of reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s plays published by Hogarth. “Vinegar Girl” is the modern retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew” (1590), in which Kate Battista, a motherless twenty-nine year old, takes care of her scientist father and absent-minded sister. Initially, Kate resists the pursuit of her father’s Russian lab assistant, Pyotr, but when both Kate’s father and Pyotr plot to make the romance a reality, Kate eventually gives in, falling in love with Pyotr.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • about Adam, Kate’s crush: “Now he happily tended two-year olds, wiping noses and soothing random cases of homesickness, and before Quiet Rest Time every day his mumbly, slightly furry voice could be heard singing lullabies above the soporific strumming of his guitar” (36).
  • “You could really feel physically wounded if someone hurt your feelings badly enough. Over the next few days, she discovered that. She had discovered it several times before, but this felt like a brand-new revelation, as sharp as a knife to her chest. Illogical, of course: why her chest? Hearts were just glorified pumps, after all. Still her own heart felt bruised, simultaneously shrunken and swollen, and if that sounded self-contradictory, well, so be it” (71).
  • “Walking home at the end of the day, she reviewed her conversation with Adam. ‘Ooh!’ she had said, not once but twice, in that artificial, girlie way she detested, and her voice had come out higher-pitched than usual and her sentences had slanted upward at the end. Stupid, stupid, stupid” (78).
  • about Pyotr: “There was a certain liberation in talking to a man who didn’t have a full grasp of English. She could tell him anything and half of it would fly right past him, especially if the words came tumbling out fast enough” (96).
  • about Kate’s father: “Now that the weather was warmer, he had abandoned the waffle-knit long-sleeved undershirts he wore all winter. His coverall sleeves were rolled up to expose his bare forearms, which were thin and black-haired and oddly frail. Kate felt an unexpected jolt of pity for him, over and above her exasperation. He was so inept-looking, so completely ill-equipped for the world around him” (104).
  • “Immigration was the family’s new bugaboo. Kate envisioned Immigration as a ‘he’—one man, wearing a suit and tie, handsome in the neutral, textureless style of a detective in an old black-and-white movie. He might even have that black-and-white movie voice, projected-sounding and masterful” (116).
  • “She had always been such a handful—a thorny child, a sullen teenager, a failure as a college student. What was to be done with her? But now they had the answer: marry her off. They would never have to give her another moment’s thought” (159).
  • “They smushed a layer of pale pink blossoms carpeting the sidewalk. They climbed the three brick steps and came to a stop on the stoop. Pyotr slapped his front pockets. Then he slapped his rear pockets. Then he said ‘Hell damn,’ and put his finger on the doorbell and held it there” (197).
  • Kate’s speech about her sister Bunny’s future husband: “I pity him, whoever he is. It’s hard being a man. Have you ever thought about that? Anything that’s bothering them, men think they have to hide it. They think they should seem in charge, in control; they don’t dare show their true feelings. No matter if they’re hurting or desperate or stricken with grief, if they’re heartsick or they’re homesick or some huge dark guilt is hanging over them or if they’re about to fail, big-time at something—‘Oh, I’m okay,’ they say. ‘Everything is just fine.’ They’re a whole lot less free than the women are when you think about it” (231).
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Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous c. 2006 (151 pages—Gallery Books)

The author is anonymous, wholly without an internet persona perhaps because, as he confesses, he’s a horrible person (as evidenced by his treatment of women). The book, self-published and semi-autobiographical, is an edgy and well-written account of how an emotionally damaged man takes his hurt out on women.

Sentences worth studying

  • “And the fact that they were attracted to a piece of shit like me made me hate them even more than if they’d laughed in my face and walked away” (4).
  • “And one night I just cracked up. It’d been bubbling for ages. Simmer, simmer, bubble, stew . . . gurgle. I got completely fizzingly drunk and this whole chain of events began to rattle. Why would anyone set out to break the heart of someone he loved? Why would anyone intentionally cause that kind of pain?” (8).
  • “Romance has killed more people than cancer. Okay, maybe not killed, but dulled more lives. Removed more hope, sold more medication, caused more tears” (16).
  • “The conversation that started the ball rolling on the events of the following three years took place in the rattling hallway of an old French farmhouse in the Dordogne with dogs barking and the mistral shaking the windows” (40).
  • “American lawns are loaded with social and political meaning. There is a law somewhere that says you have to maintain your lawn or the neighbors can force you to. I knew nothing of this and immediately reveled in the possibility of allowing my front and back gardens to return to nature. A polite knock on my front door changed all that” (48).
  • “Also, I’m completely paranoid. I mean seriously paranoid. Not just mildly interested in the fact that there may be people who don’t necessarily have my best interests at heart. No. The word is ‘paranoid.’ Another word is ‘self-centered.’ I don’t like that one as much, though. Doesn’t sound medical enough” (50-51).
  • “I should have been the perfect candidate for some self-respecting clean-gened Minnesotan girl. But fuck it, the big toothy smiles, the thick needy niceness. That crazy wide-eyed stare. I still don’t know what that was. Zoloft? Stupidity? In New York, everyone just looked hurt. It seemed more honest. Maybe I just identified with them” (64).
  • “A roasted turkey with no legs was steaming in the space between us. It was the first time my mother had brought a turkey on her own, and it had seemed like a bargain to her to buy the one that had no legs. It was considerably cheaper than the able-bodied version” (69).
  • “It’s not the fault of the ad agencies. It’s actually your fault. / The public. / And if this never gets published, it’s your fault, too, because it means that this kind of story was deemed uninteresting to you. / You bastards” (91).
  • “By the way, I am aware that up to this point I sound like a jilted boyfriend trying to disguise his attempt at revenge (i.e., this whole story) as a literary event that you (the reader) are supposed to be taken in by. Maybe” (111).
  • “Actually, it’s just occurred to me that there is no ending to this book, if it is a book, happy or otherwise. It’ll only be a comma in the sentence that will be added to it when her book comes out. There is a revenge element to all this” (148).
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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath c. 1971 (244 pages—Harper)

First published in London in 1963 (the year of Sylvia Plath’s death) under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar is Plath’s largely autobiographical account of her battle with mental illness. The protagonist, a nineteen-year-old writer named Esther Greenwood, goes to New York after being awarded an internship at a fashion magazine. Returning home to the suburbs of Boston, Esther suffers insomnia and is plagued by thoughts of death. The recurring image of a “bell jar” seems to convey the narrator’s feeling of being trapped and exposed—similar to a specimen in a bell jar.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers—goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway . . . It was like the first time I saw a cadaver. For weeks afterward, the cadaver’s head—or what was left of it—floated up behind my eggs and bacon at breakfast and behind the face of Buddy Willard, who was responsible for my seeing it in the first place, and pretty soon I felt as though I were carrying that cadaver’s head around with me on a string, like some black noseless balloon stinking of vinegar” (1-2).
  • “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence” (18).
  • “I’d discovered, after a lot of extreme apprehension about what spoons to use, that if you do something incorrect at a table with a certain arrogance, as if you knew perfectly well you were doing it properly, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are bad-mannered or poorly brought up. They will think you are original and very witty” (27).
  • “I’d been telling people I’d always wanted to learn German for about five years. / My mother spoke German during her childhood in America and was stoned for it during the First World War by the children at school. My German-speaking father, dead since I was nine, came from some manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia . . . / What I didn’t say each time I picked up a German dictionary or a German book, the very sight of those dense, black, barbed-wire letters made my mind shut like a clam” (33).
  • “Botany was fine, because I loved cutting up leaves and putting them under the microscope and drawing diagrams of bread mold and the odd, heart-shaped leaf in the sex cycle of the fern, it seemed so real to me . . . [But] Physics made me sick the whole time I learned it. What I couldn’t stand was this shrinking everything into letters and numbers. Instead of leaf shapes and enlarged diagrams of the holes the leaves breathe through the fascinating words like carotene and xanthophyll on the blackboard, there were these hideous, cramped, scorpion-lettered formulas in Mr. Manzi’s special red chalk” (34-35).
  • “It wasn’t the nice kind of rain that rinses you clean, but the sort of rain I imagine they might have I Brazil. It flew straight down from the sky in drops the size of coffee saucers and hit the hot sidewalks with a hiss that sent clouds of steam writhing up from the gleaming, dark concrete” (41).
  • “The same thing happened over and over: / I would catch sight of some flawless man off in the distance, but as soon as he moved closer I immediately saw he wouldn’t do at all. / That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket” (83).
  • “It was the day after Christmas and a gray sky bellied over us, fat with snow. I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass” (87).
  • “The cold air punished my lungs and sinuses to a visionary clearness” (94).
  • “A dispassionate white sun shone at the summit of the sky. I wanted to hone myself on it till I grew saintly and thin and essential as the blade of a knife” (98).
  • “Fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, sent up their fishy bubbles in my brain. They surfaced with a hollow pop” (99).
  • “The faces were empty as plates, and nobody seemed to be breathing” (105).
  • “Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the grey scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York” (111).
  • “The gray, padded car roof closed over my head like the roof of a prison van, and the white, shining, identical clapboard houses with their interstices of well-groomed green proceeded past, one bar after another in a large but escape-proof cage. / I had never spent a summer in the suburbs before” (114).
  • “I feigned sleep until my mother left for school, but even my eyelids didn’t shut out the light. They hung the raw, red screen of their tiny vessels in front of me like a wound. I crawled between the mattress and the padded bedstead and let the mattress fall across me like a tombstone. It felt dark and safe under there, but the mattress was not heavy enough” (123).
  • “I hated the very idea of the eighteenth century, with all those smug men writing tight little couplets and being so dead keen on reason” (124).
  • “I saw, as if through the keyhole of a door I couldn’t open, myself and my younger brother, knee-high and holding rabbit-eared balloons, climb aboard a swanboat and fight for a seat at the edge, over the peanut-shell-paved water. My mouth tasted of cleaness and peppermint. If we were good at the dentist’s, my mother always bought us a swanboat ride” (137).
  • “Pantherlike in a dapple of tree shadow, Dodo Conway’s black station wagon lay in wait . . . Sitting in the front seat, between Dodo and my mother, I felt dumb and subdued. Every time I tried to concentrate, my mind glided off, like a skater, into a large empty space, and pirouetted there, absently” (145).
  • “I hadn’t slept for twenty-one nights. / I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth” (147).
  • “When they asked some old Roman philosopher or other how he wanted to die, he said he would open his veins in a warm bath. I thought it would be easy, lying in the tub and seeing the redness flower from my wrists, flush after flush through the clear water, till I sank to sleep under a surface gaudy as poppies. / But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at” (147).
  • “The stones lay lumpish and cold under my bare feet. I thought lovingly of the black shoes on the beach. A wave drew back, like a hand, then advanced and touched my foot. / The drench seemed to come off the sea floor itself, where blind white fish ferried themselves by their own light through the great polar cold. I saw sharks’ teeth and whales’ earbones littered about down there like gravestones. / I waited, as if the sea could make my decision for me. / A second wave collapsed over my feet, lipped with white froth, and the chill gripped my ankles with a mortal ache” (153).
  • “I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed” (182).
  • “If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” (185).
  • “The walls were bright, white lavatory tile with bald bulbs set at intervals in the black ceiling. Stretchers and wheelchairs were beached here and there against the hissing, knocking pipes that ran and branched in an intricate nervous system along the glittering walls. I hung onto Doctor Nolan’s arm like death, and every so often she gave me an encouraging squeeze” (213).
  • “All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air” (215).
  • “A fresh fall of snow blanketed the asylum grounds—not a Christmas sprinkle, but a man-high January deluge, the sort that snuffs out schools and offices and churches, and leaves, for a day or more, a pure, blank sheet in place of memo pads, date books and calendars” (236).
  • “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream. / A bad dream. / I remembered everything. / I remembered the cadavers and Doreen and the story of the fig tree and Marco’s diamond and the sailor on the Common and Doctor Gordon’s wall-eyed nurse and the broken thermometers and the Negro with his two kinds of beans and the twenty pounds I gained on insulin and the rock that bulged between sky and sea like gray skull. / Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them. / But they were part of me. They were my landscape” (237).
  • “Then, behind the coffin and the flowers and the face of the minister and the faces of the mourners, I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys” (243).
  • “But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” (241).
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Veronica by Mary Gaitskill c. 2005 (227 pages—Random House, 2005)

Allison, the narrator, a former model who is now dying of Hepatitis C recalls her friendship with Veronica, a women who died of AIDS many years earlier. Beauty, wealth, identity, mortality and the decentered or postmodern perception of reality seem to be salient themes in the novel.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “This happens sometimes when I walk along here; my focus slips and goes funny. I think it’s something to do with walking at a slow pace against the speeding traffic, and today the rain blurs everything even more. It’s like I get sucked out of normal life into a place where the order of things is changed: it’s still my life and I recognize it, but the people and places in it are sliding around indiscriminately” (9).
  • “But eventually those feelings got attached to other songs, and those singers didn’t work as signals anymore . . . He didn’t realize that his signals could not be heard, that the men were looking at him strangely. Or maybe he did realize but didn’t know what else to do but keep signaling. Eventually, he gave up, and there were few visitors. He was just by himself, trying to keep his secret and tender feelings alive through these same old songs” (16).
  • “The months in San Francisco were folded up into a bright, tiny box and put down somewhere amid the notices and piles of coupons. I was blended into the electrical comfort of home, where our emotions ran together and were carried by music and TV images” (49).
  • “I used to watch these shows with my family. The black-and-white people were so full of memory and feeling that there were like pieces of ourselves, stopped in a moment and repeating it again and again, until it became an electronic shadow of a fleshy place” (52).
  • “Riding still, out of the roaring night into a pallid day of sidewalks and beggars with the past rinsing through their eyes. Shadows of night sound solemnly glimmer in rain puddles; inverted worlds of rippling silver glide past with lumps of mud and green weeds poking through. The past coming through the present; it happens” (63).
  • “The more withered the reality, the more gigantic and tyrannical the dream” (71).
  • “I bend and kiss her forehead. Ten years from now, I will be a kiss in a great field of faceless kisses, a sweet patch of forgotten territory in her inner country . . . Nice to think that in her dreams Trisha might run through that field and love it without knowing why” (86).
  • “I think of an interview I heard with a religious person who had two kinds of cancer. The radio host asked her if she’d prayed for God to heal her. She said that she had and that it hadn’t worked. When she realized that she was going to die, she asked God why He hadn’t healed her, and He answered. She actually heard His voice. He said, “But I am.” / I am not religious, but when I heard that I said yes inside. I say it now. I don’t know why. There’s a reason, but it’s outside my vision” (108).
  • “His opinions were frivolous, fierce, and exact” (127).
  • “We are a tangle of roots, a young branch, a flower, a moldy spore. You want to say, This is me; this is who I am. But you don’t even know what it is, or what it’s for. Time parts its shabby curtain: There is my father, listening to his music hard enough to break his own heart. Trying to borrow shapes for his emotions so that he may hold them out to the world and the world might say, Yes, we see. We feel. We understand” (128).
  • “When we got back, the house was warm and dark except for the Christmas tree, its burning light making glowing caves in its branches, jeweled with soft colors and the lit intensity of tiny needles” (140).
  • “She talked in and out of the movie, as if its enlarged characters were fragments escaped from her head and willfully acting out on their own, assuming the perfect narrative forms they were denied in life. It was like somebody in church repeating and affirming the minister’s sermon . . .” (146).
  • “The following months were an oscillating loop of dreams—brilliant and blurred, like a carnival ride at night, lighting up and going dark as its cars toss and churn. From a distance, it is beautiful, even peaceful. From inside, it rattles and roars and roughly yanks you by the neck” (153).
  • “I went back to New York just before Christmas. This piss-elegant city wore salt-stained winter clothes and soiled jewels, its colors stunned and mute in the cold” (198).
  • “I drank and bit the rim of my plastic cup and lost myself in the music on the sound system. I had succeeded. I had become like this music. My face had been a note in a piece of continuous music that rolled over people while they talked and drank and married and made babies. No one remembers a particular note. No one remembers a piece of grass. But it does its part. I had done my part” (209).
  • “I imagine Veronica drawing away from everything she had become on earth, withdrawing the spirit blood from what had been her self, allowing its limbs to blacken and fall off. I imagine Veronica’s spirit stripped to its skeleton, then stripped of all but its shocked, staring eyes, yet clinging to life in a fierce, contracted posture that came from intense, habitual pain. I imagine the desiccated spirit as a tiny ash in enormous darkness. I imagine the dark penetrated by something Veronica at first could not see but could sense, something substantive and complete beyond any human definition of those words. In my mind’s eye, it unfurled itself before Veronica. Without words it said, I am Love” (217).
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*blog posts: a quick explanation*

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.”

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The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel c. 2016 (332 pages—Spiegel & Grau)

A novel composed of three distinctive stories, all of which come together in the end. In the first part, Tomas the narrator—after losing his son, wife, and father—sets out on quest to find a religious statue referred to in a journal. Eusebio the protagonist in the second part is a pathologist that mourns the death of his wife. Peter, also mourning the loss of his wife, is a retired politician and the narrator of the third part. Grief and loss are explored, while androcentrism is questioned in this work of magical realism.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “What his uncle does not understand is that in walking backwards, his back to the world, his back to God, he is not grieving. He is objecting. Because when everything cherished by you in life has been taken away, what else is there to do but object?” (12).
  • “When the final moment came, signaled to him by the dramatic stoppage of her loud, rasping breath (whereas their son had departed so quietly, like the petals of flowers falling off), he felt like a sheet of ice being rushed along a river” (18).
  • “Love is a house with many rooms, this room to feed the love, this one to entertain it, this one to clean it, this one to dress it, this one to allow it to rest, and each of these rooms can also just as well be the room for laughing or the room for listening or the room for sulking or the room for apologizing or the room for intimate togetherness, and, of course, there are the rooms for the new members of the household. Love is a house in which plumbing brings bubbly new emotions every morning, and sewers flush out disputes, and bright windows open up to admit the fresh air of renewed goodwill. Love is a house with an unshakable foundation and an indestructible roof. He had a house like that once, until it was demolished” (24).
  • “What are we without the ones we love? Would he ever get over the loss? When he looks in his eyes in the mirror when he shaves, he sees empty rooms. And when he goes about his days, he is a ghost who haunts his own life” (48).
  • “I said not a word. My tongue was stilled of any priestly cant. I am transformed. I saw. I have seen. I see. That short gaze made me see a wretchedness that until then had never echoed in my heart. I entered that cell thinking I was a Christian man. I walked out knowing I was a Roman soldier. We are no better than animals” (109).
  • “Every man and woman he encounters—he doesn’t see any children—smells of time and radiates solitude” (118).
  • “He churns with horror. Then a hand seizes that horror and stuffs it in a box and closes the lid. If he leaves quickly enough, it will not have happened. For a moment this accident is in himself only, a private mark, a notch carved nowhere but upon his sensibility. Outside him, nothing cares. Look for yourself: The wind blows, time flows” (122).
  • “‘We loved our son like the sea loves an island, always surrounding him with our arms, always touching him and crashing upon his shore with our care and concern” (200).
  • “And then he has nothing to do. After three weeks—or is it lifetime?—of ceaseless activity, he has nothing to do. A very long sentence, anchored in solid nouns, with countless subordinate clauses, scores of adjectives and adverbs, and bold conjunctions that launched the sentence in a new direction—besides unexpected interludes—has finally, with a surprisingly quiet full stop, come to an end. For an hour or so, sitting outside on the landing atop the stairs, nursing a coffee, tired, a little relieved, a little worried, he contemplates that full stop. What will the next sentence bring?” (273).
  • “That Odo learned to make porridge, that he enjoys going through a magazine, that he responds appropriately to something that Peter says only confirms a well-known trope of the entertainment industry, that apes can ape—to our superficial amusement. No, what’s come as a surprise is his movement down to Odo’s so-called lower status. Because that’s what has happened. While Odo has mastered the simple human trick of making porridge, Peter has learned the difficult animal skill of doing nothing” (300).
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The Vegetarian by Han Kang c. 2007 (trans. Deborah Smith 2015) (188 pages—Hogarth)

A haunting story of passion, abuse, and illness set in South Korea and told in three parts, from the perspectives of three people, all of whom have strong reactions to Yeong-hye, “the vegetarian.” The first part is told from the perspective of the vegetarian’s soon-to-be ex-husband; the second part from the perspective Yeong-hye sister’s husband, and the final part is from Yeong-hey’s sister (In-hye).

Sentences Worth Studying

  • [NOTE: italics in original to mark Yeong-hye’s dream] “But the fear. My clothes still wet with blood. Hide, hide behind the trees. Crouch down, don’t let anybody see. My bloody hands. My bloody mouth. In that barn, what had I done? Pushed that red raw mass into my mouth, felt it squish against my gums, the roof of my mouth, slick with crimson blood” (20).
  • “Blood ribboned out of her wrist. The shock of red splashed over white china. As her knees buckled and she crumpled to the floor, the knife was wrested from her by In-hye’s husband, who until then had sat through the whole thing as an idle spectator” (48).
  • “After a while, the train went past the apartment complex where he lived. He’d never had any intention of getting off there. He stuffed the program into his backpack, rammed both fists into the pockets of his sweater, and studied the interior of the carriage as it was reflected in the window. He had to force himself to accept that the middle-aged man, who had a baseball cap concealing his receding hairline and a baggy sweater at least attempting to do the same for his paunch, was himself” (65).
  • “But how could he have known this energy would coalesce into such a preposterous image? For one thing, up until then his work had always tended toward realism. And so, for someone who had previously worked on 3D graphics of people worn down by the vicissitudes of the late capitalist society, to be screened as factual documentaries, the carnality, the pure sensuality of this image, was nothing short of monstrous” (67).
  • “Only then did he realize what it was that had shocked him when he’d first seen her lying prone on the sheet. This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her—rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented. The sunlight that came splintering through the wide window, dissolving into grains of sand, and the beauty of that body that, though this was not visible to the eye, was also ceaselessly splintering . . . the overwhelming inexpressibility of the scene beat against him like a wave breaking on the rocks, alleviating those terrifyingly unknowable compulsions that had caused him such pain over the past year” (92-93).
  • “She thrust her glittering golden breasts over the veranda railing. Her legs were covered with scattered orange petals, and she spread them wide as though she wanted to make love to the sunlight, to the wind. He heard the sounds of the approaching ambulance siren, of screams, sighs, the yells of children, all the commotion of the alleyway down below. The sound of feet hurrying up the stairs, coming closer” (125).
  • “There was no way for her to judge the accuracy of the scene she saw then in her mind’s eye but had never seen in reality. She’d held a wet flannel to her snuffling son’s forehead all night, slipping occasionally into a sleep that was more like a fainting, and saw a tree flickering in the rain like the spirit of some dead person. Black rain, black woods, the pale patient’s uniform soaked through. Wet hair. Black mountain slope. Yeong-hye, an inchoate mass formed of darkness and water, standing tall like a ghost. Eventually the day dawned, and when she placed the palm of her hand on her son’s forehead she was relieved by the coolness she felt there. She got up, went out of the bedroom and stared blankly at the bluish half-light leaching in from the living room veranda” (133).
  • “His silence had the heavy mass of rock and the tenacious resistance of rubber, particularly when his art wasn’t going well” (137).
  • “Time was a wave, almost cruel in its relentlessness as it whisked her life downstream, a life she had to constantly strain to keep from breaking apart” (145).
  • “Her life was no more than a ghostly pageant of exhausted endurance, no more real than a television drama. Death who now stood by her side, was as familiar to her as a family member, missing for a long time but now returned” (170).
  • “What other dimension might Yeong-hye’s soul have passed into, having shrugged off flesh like a snake shedding its skin? In-hye recalled how Yeong-hye had looked when she’d been standing on her hands. Had Yeong-hye mistaken the hospital’s concrete floor for the soft earth of the woods? Had her body metamorphosed into a sturdy trunk, with white roots sprouting from her hands and clutching the black soil? Had her legs stretched high up into the air while her arms extended all the way down to the earth’s very core, her back stretched taut to support this two-pronged spurt of growth? As the sun’s rays soaked down through Yeong-hye’s body, had the water that was saturating the soil been drawn up through her cells, eventually to bloom from her crotch as flowers? When Yeong-hye had balanced upside down and stretched out every fiber in her body, had these things been awakened in her soul?” (175).
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