Although I am not a fan of so-called literary fiction, I do love writing that is elegant and powerful; the kind of prose that gives me chills and prompts me to read the words again and again with the enthusiasm of a fourteen year old boy examining a Playboy centerfold.
Many years ago I read “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. The opening paragraph is, I believe, the best writing I have ever seen.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The imagery, the personification of the house, the dark power of the writing, all of it is sublime. I even love the punctuation, particularly the aggressive use of semi-colons.
I can’t write like Shirley Jackson, not even close, but I can read this paragraph as often as I like. Yes, I can.