Monica Wood, When We Were the Kennedys

I had another friend, Sheila, who lived just our side of the Mexico-Rumford bridge, in a Protestant, two-child, flood-prone, single-family house; and another friend, Janet, who lived atop her parents’ tavern, the regulars marshmallowed onto the barstools by three in the afternoon listening to Elvis on the jukebox.


Our stay with the Lavorgnas confers a sweet, brief relief, the truth of Dad’s death humming through me in intermittent twinges, like the feeling of grabbing an electric fence on a dare–first nothing, then a blunt pulse of pain, then your hand releases and it’s nothing again.

Here’s two from Monica Wood’s lovely memoir, When We Were the Kennedys. Wood’s writing (three novels, a book of linked stories, two books on writing, and this memoir) is littered with great sentences. She’s not one for showy prose pyrotechnics, just exacting, well-wrought detail and unfolding dramatic arcs. In case it’s not clear, that “just” is sarcasm. This stuff is hard to pull off, and Wood makes it look easy.

The first sentence is a two-for-one deal. First we get the strong rhythms of the first part–say “in a Protestant, two-child, flood-prone, single-family house” a few times in case you don’t hear it. It rises, falls, beats out two quick double beats, falls, falls again, then rises again.

After the semicolon, the sentences zigs a different way in describing another friend’s apartment. I’ve never seen marshmallowed used as a verb before, and I can’t think of a better way to use it than to describe the butts of the regular’s at the bar at three in the afternoon.

But Wood’s skill isn’t only in getting down the local detail with enough surprise to make us pay attention. The second sentence here shows her delivering a powerful simile that gets to how grief feels to a young girl, or maybe to any of us.


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