There are, in a writer's life, few things that are more inspirational (or depressing) than coming across a perfect piece of prose. Where every word belongs, every sentence has a purpose and the entire piece, from beginning to end, mends seamlessly.
For a long time, I felt John Irving's "Hotel New Hampshire", David Sedaris' "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" and Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods" fit the bill.
But then came the day I read Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain". As a technical piece, this short story is humbling. That it also resonates on every emotional level...well, the rest of us who claim to be writers might as well be mere journeymen.
Here's one of my favourite passages:
"Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they'd never got much further than that. Let be, let be. "