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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: On a Sentence from “My Final Best Feature,” by Gary Lutz

I was going to lay off those years for a change, but here were people in what might have been asking attitudes, and from the whole of what I might have told them, I said only that in me they had yet another girl who had gone as far as she could get in life without somebody else’s body to back her up, but I for one had at least come early into the sense, thank goodness, to keep a book open in front of me at all times, a heavyweight paperback I was not so much reading as working a different, less stable shape onto, putting leisurely violences into the turning of pages so that when I was through with a book it was a lopsided thing, something far atilt that could be pointed to, publicly, as an example of someone’s having stuck something out, and then one morning I fed myself far enough into the population, thumbing people, citizenry, aside, until I came to a like-sized, schoolworn girl doing just such pointing, a girl a little unpretty but with a heart dangerously in use behind the buttony blouse, and the way the two of us instantly took to each other gave us a leg up on marriage—we each set out hours for the other to fill with just shy breathing, pinned hopes to the ribbonry we hung wherever there were bulks of hair further discoverable upon us, feigned a unisonal swoon whenever a forearm of either one of us was by chance drawn forward finally against the unsleeved upper arm to produce, at the shadow-lined seam, a mouth, surely, an unbiting mouth which, were it to break into a murmur, would let everything between us be a lesson to us—for what most of what any two people of that age together might do (we were each, you see, a drowned-out, undominant twenty-three), most of what they manage in the way of carrying forward the loveliness in each other, was in sorry, well-known fact addressed to, aimed at, an unseen and unknown but counted-on third party (it was the only progress we could see a point to), and the girl and I were now looking to each other for a glimpse of who that person might turn out to be; and for me, soon enough, it was a man I was sitting only a handbreath away from on a bus, a thick-mouthed man in need of an underling right away, who led me from the bus and down an off-cutting street and into a dark-ceilinged building where he showed me to the plasticized outercoat I was to wear while doing the rudimentary cabinet chemistry itself; and that should have been the extent of things, but the man brought me home to say hello to the sister he lived with, a woman bearing victorious versions of the man’s off-sloping chin, his wide-set nostrils, his gristly ears, and two of them, brother and blinking sister both, were pounding away from their forties under one roof with only a shared kitchen between them, the sister a little more under the weather, hoarse, watery of eye; and in no time the sister and I were impartible, and even though there was a voice she used solely on her brother (a sharp, finite voice that put things straight up into the falsifying affirmative whenever he asked if she was all settled in for the night), and a different voice altogether for persons who brought things to the door (this one bracing, salutatious), she had further voice reserved uniquely for me, a duplexity of voice, complex in address, which might have sounded, up top, to be saying only “He pushes you too hard” or “I should see to supper,” but which, if you went straight to what was lowermost in it, was saying, “Catch my cold, get yourself knocked up by the snot of it, feel it fill you roundly out, carry it round inside of you, bring the thing to term, blow out a mucousy umbilical thing, be sure to have saved every sluttery tissue, because I am going to come to you in demand”; and it was long afterward that she packed the brother off to a faraway bachelorship so the two of us could pass some agreeable, willinghearted months as a close-set couple, keeping each other looking looked-after, building the world up with our home truths and sore points, ready-handed, for instance, in our agreement that a man was just a frame from which a single useworthy but renounceable thing was suspended; she let out the prediction that we would be turning up eternally in each other’s endearances in new, unprompted, uncurbable ways; and then one night after some errands had removed her from the house for a run of days, she began wondering aloud whether our intimateness, agreeable as it might still seem, was in fact just a fluke accord of matching dank genitalia, whether the worst of life in fact gets its start when you’re attaching feelings not to other persons but to feelings those persons have already put out of themselves, whether I had not yet come into the discovery that if only one truly knew what one was doing with one’s eyes, people didn’t actually look like what they looked like, men of course above all.

—From “My Final Best Feature,” by Gary Lutz

This massive sentence, leading to the sentence: “The invitation to the wedding shower was forwarded to what was now my forwarding address”—its length just one of the many contrasts between the two sentences—is just one example of a fine sentence from one of literature’s finest craftsmen, one for whom the sentence is not only a lonely place, but a continuum of seemingly infinite possible configurations, for whom each sentence must be able to stand alone as a complete entity; a sentence containing no small number of finely tooled, and ultimately hilariously dismissive descriptions like “here were people in what might have been asking attitudes”; “yet another girl who had gone as far as she could get in life without somebody else’s body to back her up”; “a like-sized, schoolworn girl…a girl a little unpretty but with a heart dangerously in use behind the buttony blouse”; “a thick-mouthed man in need of an underling right away”; “a woman bearing victorious versions of the man’s off-sloping chin, his wide-set nostrils, his gristly ears”; a sentence counterpointing descriptions of two women who “were each, you see, a drowned-out, undominant twenty-three” with a brother and sister who were “pounding away from their forties”; a sentence that manages also to exhibit one of Lutz’s obsessions, namely, the arm, or rather, the forearm in particular; a sentence that brims with unusual words that may send you to the dictionary to see whether they are neologisms or not like “schoolworn” and “endearances,” and a virtual parade of u sounds: “buttony”, “ribbonry”, “unisonal”, “unsleeved”, “unbiting”, “undominant”, “salutatious”, “duplexity”, “mucousy”, “sluttery”, “useworthy”, “ungoaded”, and “uncurbable”; and many more like the alliterative “someone’s having stuck something out”; a sentence that in a previous incarnation (the last story in the first issue of NOON) was missing the word “each,” missing a comma after “sluttery tissue”, missing a comma after “run of days”; a sentence where “is suspended” became “was suspended”, where “she would speak, unprompted, ungoaded, of a golden godsend pipeline that would one day be run forever between us; she would let out the prediction that we would be turning up eternally in each other’s endearances in new and uncurbable ways…” became, simply, “she let out the prediction that we would be turning up eternally in each other’s endearances in new, unprompted, uncurbable ways”; and where what was later changed to “the falsifying affirmative whenever…” was once “the falsifying affirmative when…”; a sentence that’s rife with contrasts and parallels, the amount of which would balloon my sentence here to the length of Lutz’s, albeit a sentence that still wouldn’t begin to limn the peculiarities of a consciousness as attentively, evocatively, and as singularly, as Lutz does.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

3 thoughts on “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: On a Sentence from “My Final Best Feature,” by Gary Lutz

  1. I too, John, have trod, have trod, have trod, back and forth between Lutz’s originals and the book versions and found many tasty differences. Titles go out the window too. ‘Fibula’ in NOON 4 becomes (I’ll have to get back to you).

    I see the each way working – “…the falsifying affirmative when…” has a tart discharge of one syllable as caboose, whereas “…”the falsifying affirmative whenever…” goes wavy and draws out and brings eternity to the fore.

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