Word count: 320 words
Reading time: Just over 1 minute
A great way to improve your writing is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. I comment today on one written by Collum McCann.
I tried reading the novel Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann four times before I finally made my way through it. Honestly, it was only the strength of the recommendations (from my husband and from a trusted subscriber) that caused me to stick with it. But I’m so glad I did.
The writing is truly remarkable. Colum McCann has such an acute eye for metaphor. He also has the ability to balance sentence-length like a juggler. I don’t often celebrate 125-word sentences, but here is one I believe McCann pulls off.
I stayed up north, not so much running wild as having my head in books, and then my heart in a quick marriage, and then my soul in a sling, and then my head and heart in my own three little boys, and letting the years slip by, like folk do, watching my ankles puff up, and the next time I truly came home, to Missouri, years later, I was freedom-riding on the buses, and hearing stories about the police dragging out the water cannons, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my ears: Gloria, you’ve done nothing all this time, nothing at all, where have you been, what have you done, why didn’t you come back, didn’t you know I was praying for rain?
Part of it is the careful punctuation: the colon towards the end, followed by a series of careful commas. I think it also works because it’s a remembrance of a time of life. I can almost imagine it being recounted — slightly breathlessly — as the story-teller works to summarize her own early life.