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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Tuesday, July 3

Sentence Exams II

James Lee Burke is one of the finest writers of the past forty or fifty years, often following the tradition among Southern writers of emulating Faulknerian prose. In one of the Dave Robicheaux novels he writes:

"The truth was, he could not rise in the morning from his bed surrounded by the things she had touched, the wind blowing the curtains, pressurizing the emptiness of the house, stressing the joists and studs and crossbeams and plaster walls against one another, filling the house with a level of silence that was like someone clapping cupped palms violently on his eardrums. He could not wake to these things and Rie's absence and the absence of his children, whom he still saw in his mind's eye as little boys, without concluding that a terrible theft had been perpetrated upon him and that it had left a lesion in his heart that would never heal."

If I were explaining this to one of my English classes, I'd start with the structure, the way he builds on a very simple main clause and then drips the images thereafter. "The truth was . . . something." That's just a basic S-V-S pattern with the second S a noun s-v-o that forgot it's signal word "that." The structure of that noun s-v-o begins with "he could not rise" and then two adverbial 1-o's (prepositional phrases), the 4, "surrounded" (past participle), working with both the subject "he" as well as the verb "could not rise", then the "surrounded" modified by the adverb 1-o-o "by the things," with the "things" modified by the adjective s-v-o "she had touched" with the signal word "that" left out because it was acting simply as the object of the verb "had touched," then the very complicated set of words acting as the second object of "by." All right, we're now up to the sets of words led off by the "wind," which is acting as the s of the 3 (present particple) "blowing" and the object of "blowing" "the curtains." Then another 3 "pressurizing" and its object "emptiness" and the 1-o "of the house" modifying "emptiness." Then another 3 "stressing" and its objects "joists," "studs," crossbeams," and "walls" with the 1-o "against one another" working adverbially with "stressing." Then the final 3 in the series of 3's, all with the subject "wind," "filling" and its object "house," followed by the adverbial 1-o "with a level," then another 1-o "of silence" acting as an adjective to describe "level." And finally, the adjective s-v-o working with "silence" "that was like someone clapping cupped palms violently on his eardrums." Now how to explain the structure of this last thing? I guess I need to create a similar sentence to show it: The silence was similar to (or "like") someone clapping cupped palms on his eardrums. The structure of that sentence is an S-V-S (the silence was similar) and then a 1-o (to someone clapping palms), the object of the 1 being an s-3-o (a gerund with its own subject and its own o), and finally a 1-o "on his eardrums" adverbially modifying "clapping." Whew! Almost no one except for some of my very advanced English students would have any idea what I just said. I'm not sure Burke knew what he was doing when he wrote that sentence, but his ear told him how to do it without needing to know if it was right or wrong. It's very very right.

I’ll demonstrate the structure of the second sentence using my system of symbols. “He could not wake to these things and Rie's absence and the absence of his children, whom he still saw in his mind's eye as little boys, without concluding that a terrible theft had been perpetrated upon him and that it had left a lesion in his heart that would never heal.”

All the words below the top line are working adverbially with the main V (“could not wake”), the first set of 1-0's being "to things, absence, and absence"), the second set a 1 with the object a gerund 3 "concluding" followed by two noun s-v-o's acting as objects of the 3, introduced by the signal words "that" and a final adjective s-v "that would never heal" modifying "lesion." There. Simple, right?

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