By Ekta R. Garg
November 18, 2021
What You Can See from Here by Mariana Leky
Release date: June 22, 2021
Genre: Literary fiction
In my daily life working on writing/publishing projects, I wear many hats. That means I get to see work from a variety of different perspectives. On the one hand, this means my writing is the better for it. I don’t fall into a puddle of despair if I have to revise my work. I just wince and get on with it.
Sometimes, though, this means I end up overthinking a story. The writer in me wants to run headlong into a piece and not think about anything else other than getting it all down on paper. The editor in me starts asking questions right away: What about the stakes? What does the character want? Is the conflict compelling enough? Does the character’s change make sense?
In other words, some days it’s very crowded in my brain.
I don’t often read literary fiction, but when I do and when it’s as good as this book I’m envious. I get the sense that Mariana Leky just jumped onto the page and let her story go. She let the characters roam as much as they needed to roam and the plot meander as much as it needed to before it came back to main character Luisa and her thoughts and dreams.
Typically literary fiction wouldn’t be my first choice in either reading or writing. I’ve studied writing formally and informally enough to know that today’s marketplace wants forward movement in plots and characters. Also, on a personal level, I like when my characters have both internal and external conflict. That means I get excited that stuff happens and then the characters think about it, make a decision, and then more stuff happens. Choice equals conflict equals consequences; rinse and repeat.
I can’t help but yearn for freedom in my stories, though; the kind that Mariana Leky shows. As a Dreamer, I admire Leky’s ability to let the story just…be. Because now more than ever, even while writing and publishing trends require forward momentum, there’s just as much value in standing still for a bit and processing what happened.
Stories are about people, after all. Yes, there can be cool stunts or heists, there can be insanely amazing magic systems, there can be breathtaking scenery, but if we don’t care about the character(s) in the middle of it all, then all those other story elements are moot. None of them matter.
As I see the positive reviews come in for my debut novella and spend time brainstorming my next project, I’m having to remind myself now more than ever that I need to let loose and have fun. Literary fiction is an excellent reminder, I think, of how to do just that. It allows writers to break the conventional rules of writing, because everything comes back to the protagonist(s).
In What You Can See From Here, we follow main character Luisa from a terrible tragedy in her childhood of losing someone to her adulthood where she finds true love. That’s really the main thrust of the novel. The tragedy is shocking and sad and marks her for life, yes, but there is also the rest of her life, and we get to see it.
She doesn’t fall into a headlong spiral of drugs or other forms of self-harm. She doesn’t become a hard-hitting cop determined to save others. She just continues to move forward, enjoy the good, and endure the bad.
Writing experts often stress the importance of finding the universal truths in individual stories. Even when someone writes about a boy wizard, they say, who goes to a magic school, readers should be able to see themselves in that boy and his life. The advice is valid and valuable; I’ve given it myself many times in the writing workshops I’ve conducted.
I think, though, that sometimes the advice skirts past another truth. Bad things happen to people, and many of us just pick up and keep moving. Those bad things don’t act as a catalyst for us to drastically change our lives. They just act as a marker of a particular time period in our lives. They don’t stop us cold in our tracks forever or make us do terrible things to ourselves or others. We just keep living, albeit changed forever.
Literary fiction stresses this; in fact, it lingers on it. As I said, I don’t think I’d ever write strictly literary fiction, but this book—and this month’s deep dive into it—is a good reminder that sometimes it’s okay to linger. The world can stop for a few minutes. We don’t have to go rushing into the next adventure right away. We can absorb the news or the event at hand for a little bit first.
I hope, as I continue to Dream of new stories, that I can hold fast to this lesson learned.