A make-believe reader recently sent in the following make-believe query:
Dear Rotting Post Guy,
You seem to know a lot about bad writing. What’s the worst sentence ever written?
Heironymus T. Spamfilter
P.S. You seem really smart.
Dear Mr. Spamfilter,
We must say, you do appear to be a perceptive reader. We’re glad you asked this question. Is it not the role of important literary critics like ourselves to help the public with our keener discernment? To help separate the merely mediocre from the truly horrible?
Of course there are many excellent candidates for worst sentence ever, as any reader of “Great House” by Nicole Krauss surely knows. Yet what is the very worst? Through tireless minutes of painstaking research, we have narrowed the field to three choices we are nominating for this coveted prize – and letting you, the reader, decide!
Our quest begins, as it must, with “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the spectacularly successfully erotic romance series by EL James. Here is the first nominee:
- “Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms – coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow.”
Okay, we get that way about washing machines too. Whenever they hit the spin cycle we’re like, “Yes! Don’t Stop! Yes!” We also would note the sentence structure is quite interesting, wow. And that washing machines generally don’t come apart at the seams. Even when they orgasm .
We could say more about this series, but much has already been written about it, and our Inner Goddess is telling us to move on.
Our next selection is from – yes, you guessed it, “Great House” by author Nicole Krauss. This book was nominated for the National Book Award in 2010, presumably because (a) nobody on the nominating committee had read it, and (b) she had already been declared “one of America’s most important writers” by the New York Times, and (c) she was married to Jonathan Safran Foer, star student of Joyce Carol Oates, wunderkind, and the New York literary world’s mad crush.
Here is a sampling from “Great House”, just to give you the flavor (and no, this is not the nominated sentence, and yes, this really is exactly how it reads): “But once the light had gone on (Aha! Of course! Sorry! It’s all waiting right here for you) his voice softened and became louder at the same time, giving way to an expansiveness I came to associate with Daniel Varsky and, by extension, anyone who hails from that dagger pointing at the heart of Antartica, as Kissinger once called it.”
Suffice it to say, we found this book more the ‘Heavy Duty’ cycle than the ‘Spin’ cycle. Or perhaps the ‘Dry’ cycle. But then what do we know? We hail from that great fish swimming straight into the heart of Manhattan, as my third grade teacher once called it.
The plot of this book revolves around a writing desk. Granted, it is a well-drawn desk, complex and full of drawers and knobs and stuff. But if you think it is going to meet a girl-desk, or possibly a bureau, and have torrid furniture sex (like the spin cycle of a washing machine!)…you’re reading about the wrong desk. Not much happens here. It moves around from writer to writer, and wherever it goes, it casts a spell – like the pants in “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” or the lamp in, “I Dream of Genie”. The desk gets written on and stuff. People think serious thoughts, while in the presence of the desk. That’s pretty much it.
But without further ado, here is our actual nomination from “Great House” (okay, this is actually two sentences):
- “The poem was good, not great but very good, or maybe it was even better than very good, it was hard to tell without being able to read it myself. It seemed to be about a girl who had broken his heart, though it could just as easily have been about a dog; halfway through I got lost, and started to think about how R always used to wash his narrow feet before he got into bed because the floor of our apartment was dirty, and though he never told me to wash mine, it was implicit, since if I hadn’t then the sheets would have gotten dirty, making his own washing pointless.”
Halfway through this sentence we got lost, and started wondering, is it about a poem, or feet, and started thinking about whether Jonathan Safran Foer had smelly feet, and whether this was really autobiographical, and it was what led to Nicole Krauss divorcing him, and whether we should wash our toes more carefully, and how well Picasso drew people’s toes in Guernica, and how often Picasso washed his toes.
One more thing about this sentence: Small point here perhaps, but if you cannot tell if a poem is about a girl or a dog, you cannot judge it. Period. Consider these well-known lines:
A hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
Now, are these lines about a dog? Or a girl? If you think they are about a girl, they could be good. Not great but good. Possibly very good. Or very fairly good. If, on the other hand, you think they are about a dog, they might seem bad. Possibly very bad. Or rather very fairly bad.
Our third selection comes from the award-winning winner of the Man Booker Prize, The God Of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Many readers seemed to genuinely like this book. For ourselves, we are not sure what the folks over at Man Booker were drinking or smoking. The NY Times described this book as an ‘anti-Bildungsroman”, which possibly means something. We don’t know. We were sleeping during the first fours years of college, and awoke shortly before the commencement address to discover we had somehow managed to graduate. Anyway, the main thing about this book was it was very overwrought. Every sentence was pregnant with meaning. The weight of the world. Import. Here is our nomination from, “The God of Small Things”:
- “Though, on the one hand, he was taken by surprise, on the other, he knew, had known, with an ancient instinct, that one day History’s twisted chickens would come home to roost.”
Okay, this made it past the editor? History’s twisted chickens????
Here’s what the New York Times review said of this anti-Bildungsroman: “What sustains us…is the exuberant, almost acrobatic nature of the writing itself.” Perhaps there is something acrobatic in the twisting chickens. Perhaps they did a triple Axel. We cannot say. We got lost halfway through, and started wondering why people don’t use deodorant on their feet. Perhaps it could have saved Nicole Krauss’s marriage.
So there are your nominees. All really incredible – like the puree setting on my blender, wow!
Readers are encouraged to vote on their favorite. Or, if they so choose, nominate other sentences.
The winner will be declared in a future post, and will receive a free washing machine! Mmmmm!