*Originally published August 14, 2015 in the Michigan Quarterly Review online
Reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and John Gardner’sThe Art of Fiction side-by-side makes for a fun, challenging experience: figuring out how Mueenuddin’s prose violates stylistic conventions and gets away with it. In fact, Gardner’s (and other grammarians’) prescribed sentence constructions often lead to clumsy iterations. Consider the following:
There’s no need to belabor this rule, but Gardner’s warning against using passive sentences is worth reminding in its sternness: “The passive voice is virtually useless in fiction except when used for comic effect, as when the writer mimics some fool’s slightly pompous way of speaking or quotes some institutional directive.” Here is Mueenuddin’s opening in the story “Provide, Provide” (emphasis mine).
Seated at a dinner in Lahore one winter in the late 1970s, for the third time in a week Mr. K.K. Harouni was forced to endure a conversation about a Rolls-Royce coupe recently imported by one of the Waraiches, a family no one had heard of just five years before. The car had been specially modified in London and cost an absurd amount of money, and the mention of it inevitably led to a discussion of the new Pakistani industrialists who at that time were blazing into view.