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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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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Monday, July 2

Sentence Exams

Forgive me for going back to sentence examination. I can’t help myself. And I must once again demonstrate how much simpler my system is than a traditional grammatical explanation. One of my main regrets is that when I die, my system will be lost forever except for the few students who understood it and may still be using it in their writing. It's still all available at as an e-book.

Here’s a sentence described in my system:

“Few places are more charming than a quiet cocktail lounge in the middle of the day with the ice tinkling in the glasses and the starched look of a bartender’s white shirt and the clarity of the beer in the glass with the bubbles drifting up.” (A Savage Place, Robert B. Parker, p. 125)

See, a simple S - V - S pattern (with the 3 "charming" acting as a predicate adjective, followed by nine prepositional phrases all acting together to modify "charming."

And here’s a sentence explained in traditional terms:

“When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of the horses and the horses’ hooves that were shod in rawhide and the rattle of lances and the constant drag of the travois poles in the sand like the passing of some enormous serpent and the young boys naked on wild horses jaunty as circus riders and hazing wild horses before them and the dogs trotting with their tongues aloll and foot-slaves following half naked and sorely burdened and above all the low chant of their traveling song which the riders sang as they rode, nation and ghost of nation passing in a soft chorale across that mineral waste to darkness bearing lost to all history and all remembrance like a grail the sum of their secular and transitory and violent lives.” (All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy)

It begins with an adverb clause of time, then a simple S-V-O, then a long series of nine nouns and noun clusters in apposition with “them,” all the things you could hear “when the wind was in the north.” Faulkner used this kind of sentence quite often. It is long, but can be untangled if the eye realizes what it is seeing. The only appositive that needs serious examination is the last one, beginning with “the low chant.” The real confusion centers on the present participle “bearing” (which modifies “nation and ghost of nation"). It should be a transitive verbal requiring some object, but what follows are ten words, none of which can act as that object. Then the reader picks up “the sum,” and now he realizes it really reads, “bearing like a grail the sum of their secular and transitory and violent lives, lost to all history and all remembrance.” There are just too many phrases competing for proximity to bearing. The past participle lost and its prepositional phrase “to all history and all remembrance” is modifying sum as is the prepositional phrase “of their secular and transitory and violent lives.” Maybe it would be clearer if it read, “bearing like a grail, lost to all history and all remembrance, the sum of their secular and transitory and violent lives.” McCarthy chose to make the reader fight for his meaning, either purposely or accidentally. One always wonders the same about Faulkner: How much confusion did he intend and how much was just poor writing?

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