As though he were turning to himself to ask a question…

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 produced by the talented American fiction writer Maile Meloy.

I don’t typically read books of short stories, unless the author is Alice Munro. (Could it be that my standards are too high?) Nevertheless, a friend of mine urged me to read Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, a collection of stories by Montana-born Maile Meloy.

I’m so glad I read it.

Cited by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2009, this powerful collection is economical — in length and style — and yet astonishingly precise in feelings, emotions and motivations. One of the 11 stories also gave me two spectacular sentences. So, my sentence this week is a twofer.

In her story titled “Travis, B.,” Meloy introduces us to Chet Moran, a young horse-hand, who had been injured in a riding accident while young. “His father drove him to Great Falls, where the doctors put a steel rod in his good leg from hip to knee,” the story says, leading to the first memorable sentence:

From then on, he walked as though he were turning to himself to ask a question.

The phrase not only gave me a clear visual image, the elegance of it utterly captivated me. Later in the story, she describes him feeding his horses, which leads to the second memorable sentence:

He gave them each another coffee canful of grain, which slid yellow over itself into their buckets.

I love the image of a coffee can as a grain scoop and Maloy’s decision to use a colour as an adverb astonished me. So unusual. So perfect! She’s a writer worth watching.

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