One True Sentence: The Surprising Connection Between PVRIS and Ernest Hemingway

Having learned the art of brevity from his time as a journalist, Ernest Hemingway created what became known as iceberg theory: By omitting everything but the barest necessities of narrative, a capable writer lets the reader intuit deeper, thematic truths, thereby improving the reading experience and strengthening the story. One of the side effects of this practice is that, by paring down the material at hand, each remaining element is imbued with even greater importance such that almost every detail comes to seem thematically or metaphorically important. Balancing between sparse writing that creates metaphor organically and incomplete writing that forces metaphor is a difficult task; Hemingway’s advice on the matter was probably best captured in A Moveable Feast when he suggested that in order to write well, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment. The idea that committing the truth to paper is enough to bring words to life, to let metaphor grow on its own without direct authorial intent, is powerful and rich. It also brings me to “What’s Wrong” by PVRIS, a song that does not seem in any way related to Ernest freaking Hemingway.

I would argue, though, that “What’s Wrong” does have something to do with Ernest Hemingway, or at least with his views on writing. See, the chorus of “What’s Wrong” features a line that seems fundamentally at the heart of Hemingway’s claim that you should write truly while also directly attacking the idea that such truth will result in emergent symbolism: “Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable.”

There are a lot of great things about that line but my favorite is that, by being so unflinchingly honest, it adheres to Hemingway’s mantra of truth but, by directly diffusing any thought of metaphor, it refuses to be anything more than exactly what it states. Stripped of all pretense and situated in a song filled with metaphors (“I didn’t want this throne, only fools make feasts of gold … just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold”), this line is the logical, entropic conclusion of writing “the truest sentence that you know.” It’s so true, it couldn’t possibly mean anything else.

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