One Perfect Sentence #6


by Nicholas Rombes

Flats by Rudolph Wurlitzer. E. P. Dutton, 1970; new edition Two Dollar Radio, 2009.

Most of the sentences in Flats are very short, so I’ve selected three, from near the end. Characters are named for American cities: Flagstaff, Portland, Houston, Duluth.

Mobile walked across the field which was no longer a field. A figure in red overalls walked slowly toward him, as if on a straight line. Overhead a blue light blinked twice.

Wurlitzer, who is 82 years old, published five novels, of which Flats is number two. It takes place in the aftermath of some unnamed disaster and feels at times like notes for a movie. In fact, Wurlitzer wrote Two-Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and other films. At other times Flats feels like lost pages from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Barry Hannah’s Geronimo Rex or Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless. The sentences are weirdly abstract and concrete at the same time. Or like the imagistic swipes of William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

red overalls walked
a blue light winked

And: a field which was no longer a field.

The space around the characters is neutral and massive and lightly sketched. The characters struggle as much as we do to make sense of it all, relying on specific, concrete objects—a knife, a Dixie Cup, a GI boot—to understand themselves against the blankness, the nothingness of their blasted world. And against all odds, what a beautiful, tempting world it is.

About the Author:

Nicholas Rombes is author of the novel The Absolution of Robert Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio), Ramones, from the 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury) and Cinema in the Digital Age (Columbia UP). His film The Removals was released in 2016. Rombes is a columnist and contributing editor at Filmmaker Magazine, and teaches in Detroit, Michigan.

Each week Rombes will comment on a “perfect” sentence from a novel or short story he’s reading. He encourages you to submit your perfect sentence and comment via Twitter @Requiem102.