Great writing is one of my top five favorite things on this earth (it’s actually probably #3, just below God and my family, and just above sunshine and a good plate of fettucine alfredo.) There are so few truly great writers, compared to the vast number of people who publish books. The Great Ones convey information in such a lovely way, you don’t even realize how much information they’re conveying.
Serena by Ron Rash is a beautifully written book. (Small wonder that Rash is an established poet – this is his first novel.) I’m going to give you the book’s first paragraph in a moment.
Here is the information that Rash is going to convey in that first paragraph:
The setting is the early 1900’s.
The protagonist is a man named Pemberton.
He has relocated to the South.
He is wealthy, and has just inherited a large estate.
He is an important man, with underlings.
He is a hard man, careless with those “beneath” him.
He has gotten a young, poor girl pregnant.
The girl’s father has a wary loathing of Pemberton, and intends to kill him.
Now, here it is:
“When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father’s estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton’s child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath his shabby frock coat a bowie knife sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton’s heart.”
Can you see how he gave all the information I listed above, in a gorgeous way, sometimes with just a word or two? All of these details are fleshed out in the pages that follow, but you already know them after the first paragraph. A far clunkier writer (like me) would have laid out the facts with a great deal of rambling, relying way too heavily on workaday adjectives.
(Plot, briefly: the book follows Pemberton as he brings home his new wife, Serena, a tough and cruel woman. She helps him run their timber business and won’t let anything stand in her way. Not even Pemberton.)
This book was an absolute pleasure to read, interesting and suspenseful and so rich in details. And that writing! On one page, Rash signals that it’s twilight by referring to “a pale moon impatient for the night.”
In Heaven, I will write like this. God and I have already discussed it.