One of the things I love about writing is the way it can be looked at from under a microscope or through the lens of a telescope because there so many elements that make up really great writing. So far in this series, I've looked at perfect phrases, sentences, stanzas, but there's also the paragraph. Sometimes a complete thought needs several sentences to shine (and sometimes a whole book). Here is a paragraph that never fails to move me:
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
This works on every level. A compact, clearly expressed journalistic point of view on a time and culture told in breathtaking prose. The imagery is intense. The overwhelming sense of defeat and sadness is tangible. And that final metaphor is simply brilliant.
Without a doubt, this is a paragraph that has had a strong influence on my own writing, not just stylistically, but also grammatically. I think its influence is easiest seen in my first two novels Pure Sunshine and Tomorrow, Maybe. One of the reasons this quote meant so much to me was that during the writing of both of those books, the W. era in the nation and Giuliani era in my city, I was feeling quite similar to Hunter in that passage. In the '90s counter-culture, there was also that feeling that we were doing something, changing things simply by the way we chose to live. We had decided not to live by the rules that had been set up for us by people we didn't think understood us.
Strides had been made, or I believed they had, and I was watching them all being rolled away like the last big wave. I kept thinking about Hunter S. Thompson's quote and couldn't help but think history had repeated itself in a way. But I didn't believe in giving up and turning Yuppie like previous generation had (many have though, a great many). I believed we could still chose to ignore and disobey what we knew to be unjust. This idea of rejecting those forces is very strong in both of my early novels...the idea of discovering your own morality and defining a more fair world for ourselves.