Process Post #10

written and posted Nov 27 by Mallory Mariano

“Good Writing”

I have made it my personal mission, these past few years, to surround myself with good writing. Because that is just the kind of person I am. Still, the past few weeks (as evidenced with the novels that get highlighted and reviewed on the site) have cultivated within me a deep appreciation for literary writing. I am quickly learning that this particular style of writing is becoming my specific preference, niche, as a reader. According to the ACC syllabus (I simply googled literary writing), literary writing can be described as the following:

a screenshot of a simple definition of literary writing according to AUSTINCC English Syllabus
a screenshot of further attributes of literary writing, as per the AUSTINCC English Syllabus

Truth be told, it has been a while since I have taken a basic English class, but essentially, literary writing is a form of writing that is predominantly found in fiction, and is defined by its heavily featured use of symbolic and or metaphoric language. In layman’s terms, the kind of pretentious writing usually taught in senior high school English classes. Of writing that borders, or is, art. I find it quite ironic that during English 12 (in high school), I absolutely hated literary writing and could never understand the credence lent by my teachers whenever they would rave, or highly praise, a book for its literary merits. I never found resonance with Lord of the Flies, or The Outsiders.  It was just something that I never understood, but hindsight is 20/20. After Dark With Mallory may as well be a love letter to literary fiction.

I want to note, the reception of certain kinds of writing, I fully acknowledge, is subjective. Literary writing, at least to me, is what I would consider writing that is “good writing”. This may not necessarily be the case for the next person, especially when considering discourses on readership and audience. But just something to keep in mind.

With this in mind, I wanted to delve into some passages from some of the previously reviewed titles on the site, and how as works of literary fiction containing literary writing, I simply cannot get enough of this specific kind of literature. Of   ultimately, how I feel reading this kind of fiction has invariably influenced (and continues to influence) my personal style and technique as a writer.

“Driving the town’s economy, my brother had given me to understand, was, or at least had been, a trade in tombstones, in which he himself naturally had a hand. The quarries still brought up stone for this purpose, a dwindling number of carvers still carved it, and the finished stones were sent to mark the resting places of the dead all across the country. Much of the land in the township was owned by this quarrying company, but there remained a small community-run farm for the growing of fruit and vegetables and the rearing of livestock, such as cattle and sheep. Perhaps, my brother had said over the phone one evening, I might find some small, harmless way to become involved in the endeavour, make an effort to assimilate into the local community, take part for once in the things happening around me. There was a rota sheet in the shop, he explained, where one could sign up for such tasks as milking, feeding, walking, shearing, grading, carding, spinning, lambing, cleaning, digging, weeding, strimming, mowing, tilling, sowing, seeding, walling, liming, scraping, watering, erecting, dismantling, soldering, separating, hitching, unhitching, mucking out and transporting to slaughter.”Study for Obedience (2023) by Sarah Bernstein

To the best of my ability, this excerpt best represents a specifically rendered prose that often wanders into the poetic. It is clear that Bernstein is a master at turning quite mundane, even monotonous everyday tasks, and spindling them with the use of language into the sublime. The latter half of the excerpt, with its bloated use of adverbs, comes off as rather comedic and even darkly funny, but still impresses, nevertheless. Only someone with clear, technical talent, could render the kind of skill on display in the text. Bernstein is cloyingly playing with form, maintaining a space that hovers just above the novel, and poetry. I absolutely adored it.

“The adoption happened; it was a wonderful day, one of the best. I never regretted it. But being his parent was never easy. He had all sorts of rules he’d constructed for himself over the decades, based on lessons someone must have taught him – what he wasn’t entitled to; what he mustn’t enjoy; what he mustn’t hope or wish for; what he mustn’t covet—and it took some years to figure out what these rules were, and longer still to figure out how to try to convince him of their falsehood. But this was very difficult: they were rules by which he had survived his life, they were rules that made the world explicable to him. He was terrifically disciplined –he was in everything — and discipline, like vigilance, is a near-impossible quality to get someone to abandon. Equally difficult was my (and your) attempts to get him to abandon certain ideas about himself: about how he looked, and what he deserved, and what he was worth, and who he was. I have still never met anyone as neatly or severely bifurcated as he: someone who could be so utterly confident in some realms and so utterly despondent in others.” A Little Life (2015) by Hanya Yanagihara

There is not much to say about this. It speaks for itself. Yanagihara has this uncanny ability to penetrate the very psyche, an unprecedented interiority, of her characters. You just get this sense that, whoever is narrating the text, seems to be absolutely in love with the person being discussed. Truly, it is the resounding emotional impact of the excerpt that perhaps comes across as the most prominent. That is, it is a frighteningly moving account of love and devotion and protection, all voiced by some narrator recanting an individual (who they clearly, deeply, care about) in the past. A Little Life, as I mentioned in my review, is unlike any story I have read, or will ever read, in my life. And I’m all the more grateful for it.

I think that in creating After Dark With Mallory, I have begun to think about the differing modes of writing that I produce, and how each ‘style’ of writing isn’t mutually exclusive. That they ebb and flow, bleed into one another. While literary fiction may be what I am enjoying the most as a reader in this current moment, I can acknowledge that on some level, I also read to better myself as a student; as a writer. And that this process, of improving my capabilities, creatively, of experimenting with form and technique, of cultivating style, is ultimately a lifelong process.

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