I recently saw on my facebook account that Karen Russell is giving a talk on long sentences - she humbly (and falsely) stated that she wasn't very good at it.
Syntax is important. Varying sentence lengths is vital but it's the longer sentence that especially captivates writers. It's due to the craftsmanship - there's an artistry in creating the many nuances it can possess. Long sentences are often dependent on whether the voice allows for them too. For instance in "Oleander: An Ottoman Tale" I purposefully went 'long' (for me) in many places, while there are no truly long sentences in my soon-to-be released Meanjin story, as it didn't suit the stronger narrative voice and more robust feel of the piece.
Karen Russell, Joyce Carol Oates and Angela Carter are three writers that I highly regard in terms of both technical mastery and the art of the long sentence. There is so much that a writer can observe, and hopefully absorb, from their majestic handling of syntax. I'll have to add some examples at a later date (my posts are the lackadaisical cafe sort).
Long sentences are not my speciality. Those in my two most recently published stories are often 'listy' and don't convey the rich beauty and array of nuances of those of Russell, Carter or Oates. I've put two of them below for you anyhow - I was curious and took a quick skim through my own work . Naturally, they are by no means perfect and also by no means very 'long'. It is an area that I'm eager to work on - if only Karen Russell could give her talk over here in Oz...
from "Reading Coffee" (in Overland 204 and reprinted in The Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror, 2011):
She looks forwards to wakes: the brush of uncomfortably formal suits on her skin; the kitchen, a pulsating heart sending food forth and then the remains flowing back; the sad smiles; and the composed ladies who only an hour or so earlier had worn tear-stained faces .from "Oleander: An Ottoman Tale" (in the anthology Dreaming of Djinn):
That way he never realised that she knew most, if not all of the house's secrets: where he kept Mama's wedding ring; the tiny shoes that Stephanos had worn; the story of Ysmine and Ysminias; the icon of Athanasios that he displayed on a whim; and his leather water pouch that was filled and emptied every two days with aniseed spirit.In terms of technical mastery (and great reads), I'd advise reading Karen Russell, Angela Carter and Joyce Carol Oates. Their prose certainly soars (for me) like a great Andean condor. I'm just a hopeful fledgling admiring their unique and rare talent from far below.
Just finished the impressive, wistful novel Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, which in a folkish, parred-back but rhythmical style, successfully explores issues relating to those mythical selkie sea-wives, their human husbands and their 'hybrid' offspring.
I've also read the exceptional Richard Yates collection, Liars in Love. Yates' stories kept getting better and I was wrong in a previous post: Liars in Love is every bit the equivalent of his brilliant Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. His stories are (or were) that good that I actually slowed down my reading pace to make them last longer.
I'm currently reading Strange Objects by Gary Crew, to be followed by Graham Greene's The Comedians.
I don't often do this regarding friends, as it seems to border on nepotism, but I'm excited: so a hearty congrats to a mate, Daniel Simpsom, on having a story "Those Days" in the anthology Next ed. by Simon Petrie & Robert Proteous.
And a huge huzzah goes out to Kaaron Warren whose novella "Sky" (from the Twelfth Planet Press collection Through Splintered Walls) just won the Shirley Jackson Award for best novella!
Lyn Battersby, Lee Battersby, Kaaron Warren and I during Kaaron's recent trip to Perth. An enjoyable day of 'chewing the fat'.