These Women

Ivy Pochoda| Fiction, 2020

334 pages

three-hearts

First, I digress.  I wanted to say that this book is not good writing.  But suddenly I realized, what does that mean?  What is good writing?  What is bad writing?  How can I call a book good or bad writing?  What the heck do I know?

So, I did some research.  I found professors, authors, editors, publishers ... there is almost no agreement on what makes writing good.  I often notice at book club someone will say a book was well-written, and someone else will agree.  Now I wonder, what do they mean?

Here are six different lists of qualities of good writing ...

  1. Focus, development, unity, correctness, coherence
  2. Purpose, audience, clarity, unity, coherence
  3. Structure, ideas, correctness
  4. Voice, ideas, presentation, conventions, word choice, sentence fluency
  5. Bad writing is boring and defensive; good writing makes the reader vulnerable
  6. Good content, focus, precise language, good grammar

And here are some of the impacts of good writing ...

  • Touches the reader
  • Makes the reader richer
  • Makes the reader want more
  • Unveils the unexpected
  • Gives insight
  • Tells a story
  • Makes the reader feel less alone
  • Makes the reader ask for more
  • Does something with the reader’s feelings
  • Makes readers discover what they did not know

So, all of that does not help me assess what is “good” and what is “bad” writing.  It feels rather scattered and somewhat subjective.  I like writing to engage my mind and heart; interesting language; a sense of purpose; character depth (or depth of concept in nonfiction); ease; fast pace; a path to follow that builds on itself; correct grammar.  How do YOU define “good writing”?

Now, on to These Women. We meet characters in bleak and gritty South LA who seem on the surface somewhat disreputable ... prostitutes, workers on the fringes of the sex trade, such as a dancer, a performance artist who douses her naked self with blue paint, the owner of a fish shack, and mothers and fathers of these professional women.  And yet, they are all trying to survive in a violent and disrespectful world.  Not all of them do survive.

That is where Esmeralda Perry comes in. Essie is a demoted vice cop who sees the patterns and recognizes a serial killer is at work in their midst.  And then the mystery unfolds.

So, back to bad writing and good writing.  I found the first half of These Women did not have much unity, coherence, connection, or focus.  The characters, though deep and quirky, were presented individually, and were confusing.  Dead hummingbirds, a white middle-aged female stalker, and a iPhone photographer add spice to their stories.   Essie begins to tie the threads of their lives together, at the half-way point in this book, and then a story emerges.  The killer, by the way, is not a big surprise, but does have a fascinating psyche.

Yes, it is worth a read about a slice of life you may be as unfamiliar with as I am.  Just stay with the puzzlement of the first half.  Recommended on NPR.

And let us know how you define “good” writing, please!

 

3 responses on “These Women

  1. mary cary Crawford

    “hard-core pornography”. In 1964, Supreme Ct. Justice Stewart wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…

    This is how I feel about writing. I will probably never be able to successfully describe good vs. bad writing but I know it when I read it. In other words, it is very personal experience.

    The two listings you provide cover it pretty well. Of qualities I feel clarity, coherence, character development are key. For impacts, touches me, leaves me wanting more, offers insight and/or discovery, tells a story. I think these can be applied to both fiction and non-fiction.

    Good question to ask – I’ve wondered this myself. Will be interested to learn how others feel about this.

      1. mary cary Crawford

        I look for writing to have logical connections, for the writer to link together characters, actions, facts, descriptions in a manner that moves the story forward – that’s coherence to me.

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