He thought it when he saw the three women together

Word count: 363 words

Reading time: About 1.5 minutes

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. Today’s comes from Tobias Wolff.

I’ve worshipped the writing of Tobias Wolff (pictured above) ever since I read his memoir This Boy’s Life, 25 years ago. Even though he’s a winner of the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction (for The Barrack’s Thief), has won the O. Henry award three times and teaches English and creative writing at Stanford University, I can’t escape the notion that he’s not nearly well recognized enough.

His name — and his work — should be at the fingertips of every aspiring writer.

While I seldom move myself to read the fiction in the New Yorker magazine (even while I gorge on the non-fiction pieces) I always make an exception when I see the short story is written by Alice Munro or Tobias Wolf. Such a story, titled “All Ahead of Them,” by Wolff, was featured in the July 8/13 edition. (Apologies that it’s “locked,” which means it’s available only to subscribers.)

And, of course, Wolff gave me my sentence of the week:

It seemed a woman’s kind of word, so he didn’t say it, but he thought it when he saw the three women together in the church, excited, weepy, glowing in emerald-green silk that rustled as they danced attendance on their cool ivory queen.

The “woman’s kind of word” was stunning – and the sentence, above, shows the main character, Thomas, reflecting on his own wedding to Arden (I also like it that her name is so close to the word ardent.) I think Wolff nails the word (it’s true — you seldom hear a man say stunning!) but I particularly like the detail of his description: “excited, weepy, glowing” And I love the emerald green silk that rustles (terrific onomatopoeia!) Finally, the adjectives, “cool, ivory” and the metaphor “queen” to describe the bride seem to perfectly capture a certain kind of lah-di-dah society wedding.

Get the magazine at your local library, or borrow it from a friend and be sure to read this breathtaking story.

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