Salman Rushdie talks about a history professor at Oxford who told him, “You must never write history until you can hear the people speak.” That’s as true – if not more true – for fiction. I abandoned a novel ms not too long ago because, though I could see the character the novel was to be about, and the place it was to be set, I never did hear her. And the novel wasn’t write-able without the sound of her voice.
The sound of the characters’ speech should be inevitable: exactly right. So should the setting, the created world of the fiction. This doesn’t require pages of exposition – which is deadly. It requires well chosen, specific details. Mary Costello’s first short story collection, The China Factory, is full of these – the kind of details that illuminate place, character, relationship in a very few strokes. Her writing is clean and spare and very good.