Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The well-crafted paragraph

It's been eight years since I read The Secret History but this paragraph still strikes me as the epitome of style.
Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally believed to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion. I remember well, for instance, the blind animal terror which ensued when some townie set off the civil defense sirens as a joke. Someone said it was a nuclear attack; TV and radio reception, never good there in the mountains, happened to be particularly bad that night, and in the ensuing stampede for the telephones, the switchboard shorted out, plunging the school into a violent and almost unimaginable panic. Cars collided in the parking lot. People screamed, wept, gave away their possessions, huddled in small groups for comfort and warmth. Some hippies baracaded themselves in the Science Building, in the lone bomb shelter, and refused to let anyone in who didn't know the words to "Sugar Magnolia". Factions formed, leaders rose from the chaos. Though the world, in fact, was not destroyed, everyone had a marvelous time and people spoke fondly of the event for years afterward.

--The Secret History, Donna Tartt, Chapter 7
Factions formed, leaders rose from the chaos. A golden line in context. It's become a catchphrase here.

4 comments:

Melanie B said...

This is the second time I've seen this book mentioned recently.

It's been even longer since I read The Secret History. I was young and callow, still in college, and while I liked it, I'm not sure I was impressed enough. I think maybe it's time for a re-read.

CMinor said...

a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion.

Well, that sounds about like your average college!

She does have a flair for description, though one or two of those sentences are convoluted enough that you might need a GPS to get through them!

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

Reminds me of a line from an episode of Angel (where a guy from another dimension was explaining how he lost his kingdom):

"Endless committees were formed. Committees splintered into factions, the factions into coalitions, the coalitions turned into subcommittees, until finally the more radical element, spurred by a charismatic leader, did the dance of revolution."

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Good style, indeed.