Blood-Burning Moon by Jean Toomer, 1923
The magic trick:
Shortening the sentences as the violent action intensifies
It is questionable to include Jean Toomer among our month-long feature of African-American writers. He was of mixed heritage and apparently despised being categorized as a “Black author” during his life. But the entire notion of race is stupid to begin with, isn’t it? We’re all of mixed race. Certainly, though, Toomer addressed the “Black Experience” of the early 20th-century America he knew. He does so with haunting vividness and violence in this story.
Technically speaking, he clips his sentences as the lynching begins. The narrative isn’t even using full sentences by the end. Very short. Very direct. Very fast. It gives the impression of a situation unraveling, which of course is exactly what is happening. And that’s quite a trick on Toomer’s part.
Burn him over it, and when the woodwork caved in, his body would drop to the bottom. Two deaths for a godam n—–. Louisa was driven back. The mob pushed in. Its pressure, its momentum was too great. Drag him to the factory. Wood and stakes already there. Tom moved in the direction indicated. But they had to drag him. They reached the great door. Too many to get in there. The mob divided and flowed around the walls to either side. The big man shoved him through the door. The mob pressed in from the sides. Taut humming. No words.
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