The Best Sentence I Read Today

In Harper’s May issue Yohannes Edemariam reports on the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethopia. It’s not pretty. I always admire journalists who try impossible feats like describing the poverty in Ethopia to a western reading audience. In her article the sentence below popped out. Awesome writing. Three "by the time" clauses followed by semicolons, then a "by that time" clause, and then a perfect use of the normally-banal adjective "nice". Whether it’s run-on sentences or the use of overused words, the very best writing seems to always break the "rules" of grammar and good writing. It’s kind of like the billionaires-wearing-jeans idea: at the top you don’t conform.

By the time Messeret had told me, in speech interrupted by witch-like cackles, that she gets up late every day, eats, chews khat, then dresses for work at the Venus Nightclub, whose owner gives her birr 20 to flirt with his customers, encourage them to stay and buy drinks, which "put them in the mood" to sleep with Messeret, in one of the bar’s back rooms, for a price of 150 (birr 100 being the lowest agreeable price) or to pay birr 50 for "a short"; by the time she had said there was no way I could imagine (and there wasn’t) the "sniff" (she said the word in English) of the mouths and feet of the men she lies with, and had told me that "nobody ever fucks me without draping on two condoms," and that after her customer leaves, "I sleep, and this is what life is, disgusting"; by the time the girls had asked me to circulate their photos on Toronto’s streets to potential husbands, and the smoke from six seemingly eternal cigarettes and the smell of roasting coffee mixed with body odor was beginning to make me feel ill; by that time, I very much wanted to leave, and so Binyam and I did, and I went to my grandmother’s to lie in bed and stare at her nice white ceiling.

Also, since I’m playing wannabe Francine Prose, I wanted to point out another sentence in Edemariam’s article.

"The thing I’m most afraid of is" — she smiled, with her lips and with her watery eyes, which look perpetually stung, as if life were one long slap in the face — "that I might die," she said.

Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like David Foster Wallace’s line:

"A slim calm kindly lady of maybe 45 who wears dark tights, pointy boots, a black sweater that looks home-crocheted and a perpetual look of concerned puzzlement, as if life were one long request for clarification."

I’m not yelling the P word, but if the "he carries the perpetual look of X, as if life were one long Y" formula is indeed in the public domain, then I want to use it!

One Response to The Best Sentence I Read Today

  1. Edemariam’s sentence isn’t even close to plagiarism, Ben. I think you should feel free to use the formula.;-)

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