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Literary Glance: The Girls by Emma Cline

May 22, 2017

The Girls by Emma Cline has lots of very well-written sentences in it.  I mention this because it’s tough to find books with lots of well-written sentences.

Maybe I need to be clear about what I think a well-written sentence is.  All I mean is that well-written sentences have interesting phrases and don’t get long-winded, like some literary authors tend to get.  Some literary authors sound like they’re trying to impress readers with big words or long rambling phrases, and then the author’s thoughts become hard to follow.

I’m not saying most published books have poorly-written sentences.  A lot of books just tell the story with a bit of imagery or an occasional metaphor.  Every sentence in The Girls so far has something interesting in it, especially if you read it from a writer’s point-of-view.  I mean “every” in a hyperbolic way.  Not “every” sentence is great, but a lot of them are pretty good.

Sometimes I’m a contrarian.  If somebody else told me that I should read a book because the sentences were well-written or interesting or descriptive, I’d automatically start looking for flaws in those sentences.  The analogies are illogical, I might say.  The similes are too imprecise.  Or maybe they’re too precise.  I can’t help it.  Maybe it’s a character flaw.

I also mistakenly assume that other people share my character flaws.  Just because I automatically get critical of something that’s popular doesn’t mean everybody else is like that.  Maybe other people can appreciate well-written sentences after a critic points them out.  Maybe other readers aren’t as quick as I am to find flaws in a popular bestselling novel.  I guess I’ll find out.

Here’s a pretty good example of well-written sentences from the second page of the book:

They (the three girls) were messing with an uneasy threshold, prettiness and ugliness at the same time, and a ripple of awareness followed them through the park.  Mothers glancing around for their children, moved by some feeling they couldn’t name.  Women reaching for their boyfriends’ hands. The sun spiked through the trees, like always- the drowsy willows, the hot wind gusting over the picnic blankets- but the familiarity of the day was disturbed by the path the girls cut across the regular world.  Sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water.

Some books start off strong, but then the quality of writing fades as the novels continue.  Just to make sure this didn’t happen with The Girls, I flipped through the rest of book.  I don’t know what happens in The Girls yet, but the sentences are still interesting.

p. 132- As soon as I heard the car back out of the garage, I got out of bed. The house was mine again, and though I expected relief, there was some sadness, too. Sasha and Julian were aimed at another adventure. Clicking back into the momentum of the larger world.  I’d recede in their minds- the middle-aged woman in a forgotten house- just a mental footnote getting smaller and smaller as their real life took over.

p. 204- I was scanning the contents of my mother’s refrigerator, the glass jars mortared with dried spills. The fumes of cruciferous vegetables roiling in plastic bags. Nothing to eat, as usual.

I had to look up cruciferous.

p. 319- Already my grief was doubling, absence my only context. Suzanne had left me, for good. A frictionless fall, the shock of a missing step.

These were just sentences on random pages that I turned to.  Despite the high quality of sentences, though, it might take me awhile to finish reading it.  The story hasn’t gripped me yet (I don’t summarize plots because you can get that on almost any book website), and I have some other books I want to read before I commit.  That’s not meant as an insult.  No matter how long I take to finish reading The Girls, I’ll think of it as a well-written novel.


What do you think?  Do you see these kinds of sentences as well-written, or am I missing something?  Do you get hypercritical of popular books?  Will you finish a book if it’s well-written but you’re not interested in the story?

  1. R. A. Currier permalink

    Every book attracts or annoys me based on everything it is and is not based on its own merit. I love the ability to go in blind. Suspension of Disbelief is easy for me, most of the time.

    • R. A. Currier permalink

      Oh! AND: Sorry for my sentences 😛
      I’m lazy online, and reading despite a migraine. I like your blog. 🙂

  2. It’s unfortunate that a writer with such well-written sentences couldn’t write a better book title than the blandest vanilla title “The Girls”.

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