One Perfect Sentence #9


by Nicholas Rombes

Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi. Henry Holt and Company, 2019.

Either way, I imagined her recognition of me would have the same sort of effect on her voice that bumping into the turntable had when we used to play records.

This—describing the narrator’s / “Karen’s” hoped-for reaction from her friend-from-the-past-turned author “Sarah’s” reaction when she sees the Karen-person in the audience of for her reading—is followed by another sentence that could be a contender for the sentence above: “Her [Sarah’s] needle would jump and then fall back again and she’d pretend to keep going, but there would have been that little break, that flaw in the smoothness.”

Karen—hurt and vengeful and angry to see herself depicted in Sarah’s novel as a weird, flattened, stereotype of herself—has come to the reading hoping to “bump” the turntable, to ambush author Sarah by her real, not fictional, presence. But Sarah the author, who has taken so many unfair liberties with Karen’s life in betrayal of her childhood friend, is also a stereotype in Karen’s mind. “I imagined her recognition of me . . .,” she says. As author-Sarah has fantasized a fictional character out of Karen, so too has Karen fictionalized her version of author-Sarah, nursing her grievances: “Sarah was wearing some kind of punk outfit that was supposed to look uncaring—punk—but instead shouted effort.”

The weird thing about these sort-of-great sentences is that they are authorly. It’s a really tough mystery that is not unique to Susan Choi: can an author with such a strong antenna for the beauty of language and the perfect turn-of-phrase write a character who does not betray that same language-talent? Would the Sarah-person really think up the turntable metaphor and all the other great ones in her interior monologue? Or is it a wink from Choi as if to say: Of course not. That is why it’s a great novel.



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.