Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers

Wires crisscrossed the sky like a great ventilator through which the city exhaled its polluted breath.

I’m resuscitating this little sentence blog after a summer away from it, so it’s only appropriate to start with this great image of Milan from Kushner’s stunning book. I’m a sucker for the pairing industrial and bodily images, perhaps because our bodies are our first machines and cities are machines writ large, and I grew up in a city. I like the way this image makes us move back and forth: industrial (wires), natural (sky), medical (ventilator), industrial (city/polluted), bodily (breath). It’s a whole little journey in one sentence, in one image.

This sentence is also an implicit reminder to find the best image and stick with that. I’m revising right now and noticing my tendency to pile on image after image or, worse still, image followed by explanation. Each of those tells readers 1) the writer doesn’t trust his initial image and 2) the writer doesn’t trust you to interpret/notice said image. 

It’s worth noting too that Kushner’s sentence appears as a shining bit of lyricism in the middle of a whole lot of detail from early 20th century Milan–descriptions of a tram’s “dour gripman,” how the trams were powered, “the explosions and smoke from automobiles and motorcycles,” and the like. 

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