A Comma Explosion From “Under The Volcano”
I love commas. I really do.
Commas are one of my favorite punctuation marks. Commas allow you to breathe. They help you establish a certain cadence and rhythm as a writer. Unless you are William Faulkner, you’ve probably used a comma or two in your writing.
But can you have too much of a good thing? Can your writing have too many commas?
Oh yes. Yes it can.
Reading a book with an overabundance of commas might be a lot like going on a diet of french fries and dark chocolate. You don’t have to be Morgan Spurlock to know that after a few days, you’re going to be praying at the porcelain altar surrounded by Wendy’s and Hershey’s wrappers.
Malcolm Lowry, author of my current read, Under The Volcano, loved the comma. I mean, he really loved the comma.
I present to you one passage from page 13 of Under The Volcano:
And yet, after all, the storm contained its own secret calm…His passion for Yvonne (whether or not she’d ever been much good as an actress was beside the point, he’d told her the truth when he said she would have been more than good in any film he made) had brought back to his heart, in a way he could not have explained, the first time that alone, walking over the meadows from Saint Pres, the sleepy French village of backwaters and locks and grey disused watermills where he was lodging, he had seen, rising slowly and wonderfully and with boundless beauty above the stubble fields blowing with wildflowers, slowly rising into the sunlight, as centuries before the pilgrims straying over those same fields had watched them rise, the twin spires of Chartres Cathedral.
There’s nothing grammatically wrong with his overuse of commas. It’s just his style. Some readers will hardly notice it. But my guess is that the ADD-type readers, like myself, will go crazy.
Lowry’s writing has so many commas, combined with so many changes of direction within each long sentence, that it proves to be difficult to follow.
At least that’s been my experience.
How much comma is too much comma?