Suspend Your Disbelief

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Is there such a thing as a perfect sentence?

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Recently, Publishers Weekly posted a provocative list of “5 Perfect Sentences.” Here’s one, from “A Romantic Weekend” by Mary Gaitskill:

He was beginning to see her as a locked garden that he could sneak into and sit in for days, tearing the heads off the flowers.

Now, I love this sentence, but the list raises the question: is it perfect?

It’s beautiful, sure—and over at BookRiot, Greg Zimmerman has a wise and thoughtful post about what makes a beautiful sentence.

But what does it mean to say something is a “perfect” sentence? Perfect might not mean lush, or beautiful, or even particularly striking. A perfect sentence might be one that fills its role perfectly: as the fishing lure that pulls you into a story, the painful puncture to your heart of a dynamite last line, or even the simplest of lines at just the right moment. (I think here of the only Bible verse I can recite off the top of my head: “Jesus wept.”)

What sentences would you nominate as “perfect”? What would you say makes up a “perfect” sentence?

Further Reading:

  • Perfect may be debatable, but how about beautiful? Here’s an exercise to help you write more beautiful sentences.

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