Friday, May 6, 2016

Fabulous Firsts

By Art Taylor

Like Alan preceding me here (and like Alan in so many other ways), I decided just to share some favorite first lines—and some first lines from favorite books (not the same thing maybe). Given more time, I'm sure I could come up with some commentary on what I look for or appreciate in first lines, but post-Malice (where I was fortunate to win an Agatha Award!) and on the eve of another trip out of town, it's tough to be too comprehensive (or even coherent). There's some overlap here with Alan's list, but how could I not quote the famous first line of my own favorite novel, Anna Karenina? Beyond that.... well, let's see.

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1877

"It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog." — Anton Chekhov, "The Lady with the Dog," 1899

"I first hear Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker name Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte." — Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, 1929

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." — Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, 1938

"From the doorway of La Crónica Santiago looks at the Avenida Tacna without love: cars, uneven and faded buildings, the gaudy skeletons of posters floating in the mist, the gray midday. At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?" — Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in the Cathedral, 1974 (two lines, I know)

"Thunderstorms hit just before midnight, drowning out the horn honks and noisemaker blare that usually signaled New Year's on the Strip, bringing 1950 to the West Hollywood Substation in a wave of hot squeals with meat wagon backup." — James Ellroy, The Big Nowhere, 1988

"I don't know about Will Rogers, but I grew up deciding the world was nothing but a sad, dangerous junk pile heaped with shabby geegaws, the bullies who peddled them, and the broke-up human beings who worked the line." — Michael Malone, Time's Witness, 1989

"The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation." — Donna Tartt, The Secret History, 1992

"It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk—who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty—confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college." —Philip Roth, The Human Stain, 2000

"It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss right now." — Carol Shields, Unless, 2002

"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective." — Tana French, In the Woods, 2007 (cheating a little, since this is the first line of the first chapter, and there's a prologue before it, though that's also good: "Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s.")

9 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Some great choices, Art. Especially The Big Nowhere, my fave Ellroy novel -- and one of my fave crime writers. Have you ever been to one of his signings? It's like a circus.

Art Taylor said...

Hey, Paul --
Thanks for chiming in! I've actually worked pretty closely with Ellroy on a couple of occasions. I interviewed him for a newspaper article back when American Tabloid came out, and then we went out to dinner after a book event that night. More recently, he was at Fall for the Book, and I was the one who shepherded him around, hung out with him outside of the formal event, etc. He's quite the performer, of course--less so "off-screen," as you might imagine.

And The Big Nowhere is one of my favorites too, absolutely--though White Jazzalso stands out from that quartet as the most interesting stylistically--the continuing development of his style.

Paul D. Marks said...

Cool! I'm envious.

And I agree about White Jazz. That's where his clipped style really started to show. And it worked for that book...but I think it got overdone as he went on. I liked American Tabloid, but I couldn't get through the Cold Six Thousand and some of the later ones. Though Perfidia was more on track again I thought.

Anyway, that really is cool that you got to hang with him so much. Any good stories? Any that you would share publicly ;) ?

Alan Orloff said...

Some good ones here! And the name of a rock band: James Ellroy and the Hot Squeals, with Meat Wagon on backup.

Cathy Ace said...

Some interesting choices!:-)

Catriona McPherson said...

Breaking news! Breaking news! Congrats to the Art for the nomination for best short story Anthony at this year's Bouchercon. Okay - return to regular broadcast..

Cathy Ace said...

Congratulations to Catriona and Art for their Anthony nominations! WOOT!

Harley Mazuk said...

In our genre, I've always been fond of the first line of James Crumley's Last Good Kiss: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."
Has a nice rhythm to it.

Susan C Shea said...

Haven't read at least half f these books, depressing particularly because I haven't read half of the books in my current library. I'd have to live to 120 - talk about depressing! - to have a shot at clearing the decks for new works. Parenthetically: Then why am I still buying books?