I wrote a post recently on the first lines that open books. Below are five more first lines and my thoughts about them… I did cheat a bit in two cases, and I included the first few lines because despite the punctuation, I felt they were meant to be read together.
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris.
We were fractious and overpaid.
I recently shared an excerpt of this novel, Joshua Ferris’ debut. I loved the book, and identified with the humor of the ad agency world contained within it. This first line is incredibly short and simple, but I think it grabs the reader very effectively. The line clearly indicates the story will be about a group of people and have something to do with jobs. The reason I love the line, though, is because of the use of the word “fractious.” What an awesome word, and one I doubt I’ve seen in print anywhere! Dictionary.com gives two great examples of the meaning and use of the adjective:
1. refractory or unruly: a fractious animal that would not submit to the harness.
2. readily angered; peevish; irritable; quarrelsome: an incorrigibly fractious young man.
Looking at this first line after having read the book, I couldn’t possibly pick a more appropriate opening line, and I think that also underscores it’s effectiveness.
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss.
When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT.
I absolutely love this first line, and I loved the novel. The reader is introduced to Leo Gursky, the main character, and knows the story will be narrated by him. It also immediately introduces sarcasm and humor, both of which are big pluses in my book. The narrator’s name to me reads “quirky,” and I know that Leo is old or doesn’t expect to live long for some other reason. If you’ve never read this book, go get it. It’s brilliant.
The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal.
What was it Arthur said last night?
This simple first line doesn’t tell the reader a whole lot, but it does instantly convey that he is not in top mental shape. It sets the mood, though, as I quickly pictured myself with eyebrows scrunched, searching my memory for something I couldn’t quite remember. I love that readers do that – fill in details themselves as they read, whether its’ picturing themselves or another person with an expression that’s well-described, or painting a picture in their heads of a character, even though only certain details are provided by a story.
Fool’s Crow, by James Welch.
Now that the weather had changed, the moon of the falling leaves turned white in the blackening sky and White Man’s Dog was restless.
This sentence primarily sets a scene, though it also introduces the main character and illustrates his general state of mind. The language is descriptively rich, and continues that way throughout the book. As a tale of Native American life, this type of description runs throughout the entire novel. I don’t believe it is the type of first line that completely grabs the reader, but the question of why White Man’s Dog is restless is compelling, and the many references to nature, weather, and season do set a certain ambiance.
Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson.
My mother called my Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate.
Again, these statements are classic Winterson. You know instantly that you’ll be reading a tale that has some fantasy in it. Punctuation is missing, which subtly reinforces the concept that this character is truly a combination of precious metal and pirate – there is nothing to separate the two elements of the character. The unique and odd combination itself begs for more information, so I think these lines do their job.
What are some of your favorite first lines? Or, if you don’t have any off the top of your head, open up a couple books and jot them down – what do they do for you?