Schillinger approvingly quotes a sentence of Bock’s: “Electricity lit up Ponyboy’s skeletal structure as if it were a pinball machine on a multi-ball extravaganza, and the mingling odors of brimstone and sulfur and sweat and burning skin filled Ponyboy’s nostrils.” This describes, we are told, the administration of Ponyboy’s newest tattoo. It is easy to see why, in the current literary climate, this sentence attracts admiration: it loudly conflates the human body and the book’s setting, Las Vegas; it declares the obsolescence of the comma as it pounds out a list of nouns; its zeal for gaudy metaphor nearly splits it at the seams; and it turns up the biblical volume with the sinister “brimstone.”
But the sentence suffers from several conspicuous flaws. For one, it lurks at the edge of tenability when it describes the electricity illuminating Ponyboy’s “skeletal structure.” It then attempts to shoehorn in the metaphor of a pinball machine, whose vividness further divorces the sentence’s central idea from a credible reality, and then finally, in order, I imagine, to deploy four nouns rather than three, it falls irritatingly into redundancy: brimstone and sulfur, as a quick trip to the dictionary will confirm, are synonyms.
Incidentally, brimstone, late Old English brynstán , is literally ‘burn-stone’; the OED adds “An identical formation in other Teut. langs. (MDu. and MLG. bernsteen, Du. barnsteen, Ger. bernstein) is used with the sense ‘amber’. The transposition in bern-, bren- was inherited from the vb.; the subsequent change to brim- may have been due to association with the adj. brim, BREME ‘fierce.’” (Odd that the OED writes German nouns lowercase.)