In "My Life's Sentences" a brilliant article about writing, (New York Times, 3/18/12) Jhumpa Lahiri claims: "They (sentences) remain the test, whether or not to read something. The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold." So what sort of sentence keeps the reader hooked?
"Certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates ... Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace."
How does Jhumpa Lahiri create the sentences in her fiction? "After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, . . . they begin arriving fully formed. . . I hear sentences as I'm staring out the window, or chopping vegetables. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order."
Later, they are "sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do - and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation - occurs at the sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. . . As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. Each sentence is "confronted, inspected, turned inside out."
Does her writing process seem unusual? Or do you also work this way?