I am currently teaching a writing course, and a day after explaining compound sentences, and minutes after preparing a lecture on eliminating wordiness, I picked up Philip Roth’s A Plot Against America and came across the following mammoth and dazzling sentence.
“Elizabeth, New Jersey, when my mother was being raised there in a flat over her father’s grocery store, was an industrial port a quarter the size of Newark, dominated by the Irish working class and their politicians and the tightly knit parish life that revolved around the town’s many churches, and though I never heard her complain of having been pointedly ill-treated in Elizabeth as a girl, it was not until she married and moved to Newark’s new Jewish neighborhood that she discovered the confidence that led her to become first a PTA “grade mother,” then a PTA vice president in charge of establishing a Kindergarten Mothers’ Club, and finally the PTA president, who, after attending a conference in Trenton on infantile paralysis, proposed an annual March of Dimes dance on January 30 – President Roosevelt’s birthday – that was accepted by most schools.”
While this sentence is not a-typical for Roth, it certainly is for the most of us. It’s important to note that it does not break any grammatical rules (it isn’t even a run-on), and that even my overly-sensitive grammar check didn’t have a problem with it.
I shared it with my students to illustrate that run-on doesn’t necessarily mean long, and to point to the fact that wordiness is not simply about the amount of words, but the meaning of the words: Roth has no redundancies here.