Rick Moody’s Chapter Sentence

The first chapter of Rick Moody’s novel Purple America is almost all one sentence. It is a hard sentence about a grown son bathing his terminally ill mother. It’s one of the most brilliant novels I’ve read; here are a few phrases of the five-page sentence.

“Whosoever knows the latitudes of his mother’s body, whosoever has taken her into his arms and immersed her baptismally in the first-floor tub, lifting one of her alabaster legs and then the other over its lip, whosoever bathes her with Woolworth’s soaps in sample sizes, whosoever twists the creaky taps and tests the water on the inside of his wrist,…
whosoever in this instant of sorrow and reverence, knows the answers to why roses bloom, why wineglasses sing, why human lips, when kissed, are so soft, and why parents suffer, he shall never die.”

Moody balances the stark realities of bathing an invalid with the repeated use of the old-fashioned pronoun “whosoever” giving the sentence a soothing rhythm while the subject is not. The son notices bad smells yet the author talks of rose-sented bathwater and the care the son takes with his bathing and dressing job. The son weeps, then he hugs his mother. He feels fed-up with all the care she requires, yet he kisses her tenderly. The scene would be too bleak for me to bear if it wasn’t for the beauty of Moody’s language. He’s created a powerful balancing act.

One comment

  • Anonymous
    January 31, 2008 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    This is unbearably sad. I haven’t read “Purple America” and don’t think I could read it. The love the son has for his mother, the sadness he feels about her fragility is, perhaps, the recognition of our common mortality. This is pretty bleak stuff and the beautiful language describes a scene that is so painful, I want to look away. Neither the mother or the son is spared. Perhaps they see, in each others eyes, the mother’s wasted, dying body and the son’s pain and love for her. Though the language is beautiful, the scene described is too painful. Not easy to read.

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