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Entries in A Moment in the Sun (3)


Weight and Consequence

I’m a third of the way through the monumental novel A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles. I’ve just learned that Sayles’s new film, Amigo, is due out in August. It shares the novel’s subject matter—the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century. (Parallels to the present day, anyone?) Here’s the trailer:

A Moment in the Sun is completely worthy of the commitment to its nearly one thousand pages, and this extract about the seemingly mundane act of setting type for a newspaper should offer a clue as to why:

Here we scribe truth in hot lead.

            The phrase makes Milsap smile as he sits at the machine, compositing the front page of the morning edition. . . .

            . . . Milsap’s fingers fly over the keys, brass and steel rattling into the assembler box and molten metal flowing down to make the slugs. He did it by hand in what they’re already calling the old days, building sentences a letter at a time with a dozen other setters in the room. Mr. Clawson got the Model 1 five years ago and Milsap is the only one left who can look into the machine and savor its intricate beauty, the interplay of belts and blocks, gears and wheels, the way it cycles the matrices back into the distributor, every letter into its distinct channel, drink in the thick, hot-metal smell of it. And he is the only one who can glance at a piece of copy, even something scrawled with hasty hand, and see it in solid block columns before his fingers touch the keyboard, edit the wording on the fly without resorting to awkward hyphens or loose lines for his justification. There are no orphans or widows dangling from Milsap’s paragraphs. He understands better than anybody that words are not sounds made of air but solid objects, with weight and consequence. (pages 225-226)


Invented by Spies

Another bite from John Sayles’ A Moment in the Sun:

Carnaval was invented by spies. There is no other explanation — an entire week when one is allowed, no, expected, to traverse the city behind a mask, one among the thousands of dizfrazados, black and white, rich and poor, attending gilded balls or singing in processions or just noisily decorating the streets of La Habana. The gaslights are on now, the breeze blowing ever so slightly out into the Harbor as Quiroga strolls along the Malecón. It is a calm night, waves caressing rather than assaulting the sea wall, and the few lights left burning on the big ships anchored not so far away rise and fall in a gentle rhythm. Quiroga wears a simple domino and his dress suit, only a lector de fábrica down from Florida for the holiday. Nobody to worry about. There is tension, yes, and he heard footsteps behind when he left the hotel this morning, but with so much life on the street, so many crowds to lose himself to, Quiroga is certain that his sombra has been lost as well. (page 81)

[And by the end of the chapter: Remember the Maine. . .]


John Sayles' Massive New Novel

I am at the very start of what promises to be a good, long read: A Moment in the Sun, the new 955-page novel by noted indie film writer and director John Sayles. Sayles' work has always satisfied me, whether celluloid or print, and I have no doubt that A Moment in the Sun will live up to the precedent he has set.

My favorite line so far: "The manager is an older man with a face like boiled ham." (page 38)

I have a long way to go and expect to encounter many more gems of plot, character, and language.

            Books & Movies by John Sayles