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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

The Secrets of “And”

by Don Webb

Conquest’s End” begins in issue 477.

The prose style of Roland Allnach’s “Conquest’s End” is précieux in a way; it openly challenges current conventions in popular literature. But it does so in syntax rather than vocabulary. The sentences are designed to create a mythic tone to a story of unrequited and requited love, rage and hope, war and peace, death and life.

Conventional “wisdom” might lead to grousing about run-on sentences. Such objections are warranted when a sentence creates grammatical confusion and logical ambiguity. But in “Conquest’s End” the sentences are grammatically correct. They have a peculiar rhythm of their own and are not too hard to follow even though the punctuation gets a little tricky at times. What’s the secret?

Let’s start with a simple example in a passage from another author. What makes the run-on sentence work?

Maera saw him and then I saw him. When they stopped the music for the crouch he hunched down in the street with them all and when they started it again he jumped up and went dancing down the street with them.
— Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, XIII

The secret is to use “and” as a coordinating conjunction. “And” is a function word that takes its meaning from its context. It can mean “in addition,” “and at the same time,” “and then,” “and therefore” or even, at a stretch, “and because.” It’s the verbal equivalent of a comma or semicolon.

More conventional writers tend to be afraid of “and”; they frequently bog down in present participles or in clauses beginning with “as...” That works well in French and Italian; English tends to be more terse. In English we can imply the logical relationship between clauses; in other languages we may have to say what it is.

Coordination has no limit and can be taken to an extreme. In the very last section, Lady Io’s speech consists of a single sentence 128 words in length. Obviously it’s too long to say in one breath. Rather, it’s a prose poem, a lament. If the poem were formatted in verse, “and” would mark the beginning of new lines.

“And” occurs 11 times in Lady Io’s speech. In the two paragraphs following, Kyto’s conclusion is almost as long. It uses “and” 12 times. That’s remarkable; word frequency approaching 10 percent is pretty high.

But notice the difference in meaning: In Lady Io’s speech “and” means — mostly — “and at the same time.” In Kyto’s conclusion, “and” almost always means “and then.” The contrast between the static and the dynamic could hardly be more striking. And that is, in part, what the story is about.

“Conquest’s End” cannot be read hurriedly, and [therefore] I’ve deliberately given it plenty of time. In our Quarterly Reviews, the introduction to the Order of the Hot Potato reminds our readers that “Bewildering Stories is a friend of the unconventional.” I’m quite aware that some readers are not. But we stand by our word, and [therefore] if the story challenges some readers’ comfort, both it and Bewildering Stories will have achieved a worthy goal.

Copyright © 2012 by Don Webb

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