The Slow-Cooked Sentence


Rachael Conlin Levy
McDermitt, Nevada
McDermitt, Nevada.

Please, for one minute, indulge the writerly side of me, the part that salivates over a carefully constructed sentence, that is awed by the clarity and thought given to a subject, that is excited over a newly discovered word, that, right now, is so thoroughly enjoying the rambling sentences and divisive topic of the short essay “Irreconcilable Dissonance” by Brian Doyle.

Pause, for two seconds, to appreciate the opening sentence:

 “I have been married once to the woman to whom I am still married, so far, and one thing I have noticed about being married is that it makes you a lot more attentive to divorce, which used to seem like something that happened to other people, but doesn’t anymore, because of course every marriage is pregnant with divorce, and also now I know a lot of people who are divorced, or are about to be, or are somewhere in between those poles, for which shadowy status there should be world like ‘mivorced’ or ‘darried’ or ‘sleeperated’ or ‘schleperated,’ but there aren’t so far.”

Now I’ve thought similar thoughts as I’ve watched the marriages of friends and acquaintances teeter and sometimes collapse, but never have I articulated my observations into a sentence coming near the length of Doyle’s 104-word behemoth. Here are a couple more:

“The saddest word I’ve heard wrapped around divorce like a tattered blanket is ‘tired,’ as in “We were both just tired,’ because being tired seems so utterly normal to me, so much the rug always bunching in that one spot no matter what you do, the slightly worn dish rack, the belt with extra holes punched with an ice pick that you borrowed from your cousin for exactly this purpose, the flashlight in the pantry that has never had batteries and never will, that the thought of ‘tired’ being both your daily bread and also grounds for divorce gives me the willies. The shagginess of things, the way they never quite work out as planned and break down every other Tuesday, necessitating wine and foul language and duct tape and the wrong-size screw quietly hammered into place with the bottom of the garden gnome, seems to me the very essence of marriage; so if what makes a marriage work (the constant shifting of expectations and eternal parade of small surprises) is also what causes marriages to dissolve, where is it safe to stand?”

I first read “Irreconcilable Dissonance” in “The Best American Essays, 2010” and it’s the one piece I keep returning to, first re-reading it, then reading it aloud to Marcel, then re-reading parts of it for although there are things I can learn about rhythm and structure, there’s even more wisdom to be found in the meaning within those sentences.

2 responses to “Lessons”

  1. anno says:

    Beautifully illuminating; my favorite kind of writing. A couple of these sentences are going straight into my pocket, touchstones for the days ahead.

  2. very timely for me. i read it to jonathan and i felt better after that! i have a new more paying for a blog! xo Kyndale

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