Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Homeless rifle dumpsters

"Homeless rifle dumpsters..."

How do you parse that?

Homeless can be an adjective or a noun. Rifle can be a noun or a verb. Dumpsters is a plural noun (like hipsters), but when preceded by nouns one might be tricked into believing the -s suffix signifies a verb in the third-person present tense.

But here's the full sentence:

"Homeless rifle dumpsters but so slowly, so leisurely, that poverty might be a pastime."

It's from Break-up, by Joanna Walsh, which disappoints me in exactly the way Sludge Utopia didn't. (Expectations.)

It's so fucking writerly. (Pretentious.)

Is it beautiful? Maybe. I'm just past the novel's half-way mark, and I find the prose almost unbearable. (Thematically, however, the novel is compelling. Required reading in the context of my year of love and loss.)

Subject, collective noun = "homeless." Typically an adjective, it's been nouned by abbreviating "homeless people." No article. (You couldn't substitute just any collective noun and achieve the same effect.)

Verb = "rifle." In the greater context — an urban post-Soviet landscape — the noun may be more expected.

But my brain doesn't yet categorize these words as subject and verb. My brain is still exploring the potential of the adjective-noun reading and wondering what qualifies as a "homeless rifle," until it realizes that "dumpsters" can't function as a verb. Try "rifle dumpsters" (dumpsters reserved exclusively for rifles?) that are homeless only to be left hanging verbless. Start over.

My psycholinguistic faculties take many milliseconds to understand that homeless people are rifling through dumpsters.

It may be beautiful, but it's unnecessarily demanding. The payoff isn't worth the effort. It's the kind of sentence I might have aspired to write myself some 20 years ago, for its gymnastic economy. Today when I read it I roll my eyes and scribble profanities in the margin.

Break.up in my head sounds like it was written to be the sort of thing writers read at readings, as performance, all pompous and breathy, even though it could be more satisfyingly and meaningfully read in an easy, natural manner. I wish I could find another tone in which to read Break.up; nothing about it sounds real. (Is literature performance?)

No comments: