Ed Park's piece in this week's Times Book Review is a carefully researched, clever little essay about the obscure phenomenon of the one-sentence novel, but I have to admit it kind of rubs me the wrong way. My irritation can be summed up in the line "Not many writers have had the nerve to go this route."
Nerve? Really? This is not the word I would use. I'll admit that, if I came up with an idea for a novel that could be best be expressed in a single book-length sentence, I would have to take a deep breath before diving in. But it seems to me that this is the kind of fake formal experimentation that a writer is more likely to use as cover for his incompetence than for any kind of genuine insight into character, situation, or language.
Of course you could dismiss any literary trick as a gimmick, but this one seems gimmickier to me than most, especially since the writer generally finds new ways to separate ideas and establish rhythm, and the reader quickly gets accustomed to them. That is, nobody's really being challenged here--it's all proof-of-concept. If you're going to break it up with conjunctions or semicolons or what have you, you might as well restore the periods, indentations, and chapter breaks, and devote more of your energy to evoking the wrinkles in grandma's forehead or the smell of jasmine wafting over the piazza.*
That said, I certainly haven't read 'em all. Prove me wrong, readers. Show me a book-length sentence that gives you that special kind of lovin' only breathless literary nerditude can provide.
* j/k. Please don't evoke those things.