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From another post, I'm now curious about the book Wicked autumn by G.M. Malliet, especially the author's style of writing.

For example, I found that it's rather tiresome to read and understand this sentence,

(a) She was saying these things now—calling on all the resources in her cliché lineup, in fact—to a captive audience of approximately thirty-five women who, to a woman, were wishing themselves elsewhere than in the Village Hall, sitting on orange molded-plastic seats that might have been rejects from an ergonomics study, on an otherwise peaceful Saturday night in September.

But after reading it a few times, I can parse them as a perfectly grammatical English sentence.

However, I was baffled with this one,

(b) She stood, feet solidly planted, a vital, comely, and charismatic figure who, although essentially otherworldly, managed to operate her New Age gift shop on a large profit margin.

I can understand the meaning, but by patching those fragments together. To me, it seems like a run-on sentence, but I was suggested that it is just an unusually long string of apposition.

Could you please help me parse that sentence (b)?

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    Neither of those sentences is "tiresome". Both of them paint distinct and compelling images via well-chosen details compactly organized. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Dec 12 '13 at 3:35
  • @jwpat7 Thank you for your comment. I understand that the novel would be different through the eyes of native speakers. I just noted that it made me, personally, felt tiresome. Maybe it's simply just because I'm not used to this writing style. (I wasn't to say that it has a bad style whatsoever.) I took an opportunity to check my bookshelf, and to my surprise, I've just realized that over 90% of the novels I read were written by male authors. And as for the remaining few written by female authors, they all seem to use rather straightforward style, as if they aimed for young adults. – Damkerng T. Dec 12 '13 at 7:32
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The base of the sentence is simply she stood, with the rest of the words either describing her or how she stood. These other words could have been written into additional sentences, but have presumably been kept together for stylistic reasons.

If we apply she stood and selectively omit other parts, perhaps the meaning will become clearer:

She stood, feet solidly planted.

She stood…, a vital, comely, and charismatic figure.

She stood…, a figure who [was] essentially otherworldly.

She stood…, a figure who… managed to operate her… shop on a large profit margin.

String it all together, and we obtain a meaning like

She stood with her feed solidly planted. She was a vital, comely, and charismatic figure. She managed to operate her New Age gift shop on a large profit margin even though she was essentially otherworldly.

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  • Thank you for you explanation. It's quite clear, however, it seems like apposition like this will allow all sorts of student's ungrammatical writing become grammatical, e.g. Aunt Dahlia is walking on the beach, a good and kindly aunt who, above all else, never gave up on me. I think I will need to sleep on it, and let it sink in. – Damkerng T. Dec 11 '13 at 20:28
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    @DamkerngT. It's literary (you rarely encounter either appositives or participle phrases in spoken English), but it's not in the least ungrammatical. It does however require discretion. Your example, for instance, is dubious because as it stands the apposition and its qualifying relative don't appear to be particularly relevant to the matrix clause -- though of course they might be in the right context. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 11 '13 at 20:36
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    @DamkerngT. Combinations such as this one can be confusing for anyone to parse. You will rarely encounter this kind of writing in business communication or conversation, however; it is a literary usage. – choster Dec 11 '13 at 20:37
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    @DamkerngT. If you arrange them in a more linear fashion, they are less jarring. And choster is correct that these constructions are common in narratives, which is what this is. It wouldn't work for a technical paper. While these sentences are fairly common in literature, it's an older style of writing. – Giambattista Dec 11 '13 at 20:41
  • Indeed, "literary" is the key word here. Always remember your context. The English in a modern newspaper article will seldom resemble the English in a centuries-old classic novel. – J.R. Dec 12 '13 at 0:10
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This one is every bit as grammatical as the previous example. It is definitely not a run on. This is what it says, in essence:

She stood, [there with her] feet solidly planted, [appearing as] a vital, comely, and charismatic figure, who--although essentially otherworldly--managed to operate her New Age gift shop on a large profit margin.

-or-

She stood there: a tall, sturdy, woman with her feet both firmly planted on the floor, appearing to be vital, comely, and a charismatic figure who, despite being essentially otherworldly, managed to operate her New Age gift shop successfully [on a large profit margin].

If you play around with the punctuation--there are several possibilities--it might make the sentence more clear to you.

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  • It seems like apposition like this will allow all sorts of student's ungrammatical writing become grammatical, e.g. Aunt Dahlia is walking on the beach, a good and kindly aunt who, above all else, never gave up on me. I think I will need to sleep on it, and let it sink in. – Damkerng T. Dec 11 '13 at 20:27
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    I'm not suggesting that your example above is grammatical, but it can easily be made so: Aunt Dahlia, a good and kindly aunt--who, above all else, has never given up on me--is walking on the beach. – Giambattista Dec 11 '13 at 20:36
  • Thank you. It's very kind of you. (Perhaps you're my aunt Dahlia.) I understand it better, though still not perfectly. Though I will accept choster's answer because his elaboration makes it a bit easier to understand, I hope you would understand me and wouldn't mind that. Thank you once again. – Damkerng T. Dec 11 '13 at 20:52
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    @DamkerngT. There's no need to explain yourself. Choose whichever works best for you; I'd never demand (nor expect) that you choose me. I'm happy that I was able to help you understand at least. By the way, I do this because I enjoy teaching and helping people with my native language--the points are fun, and are a bonus, but they're not my motivation ;D – Giambattista Dec 11 '13 at 21:11

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