Category Archives: First Lines

Thus Bad Begins

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This story didn’t happen so very long ago–less time than the average life, and how brief a life is once it’s over and can be summed up in a few sentences, leaving only ashes in the memory, ashes that crumble at the slightest touch and fly up with the slightest gust of wind–and yet what happened then would be impossible now.

-Javier Marias, Thus Bad Begins: A Novel

Here I Am

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When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish Home.

-Jonathan Safran, Here I Am: A Novel

The Weight of Him

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Billy Brennan overdid it again with the fast food. After, he hurried as best he could along the street, fighting the need to stop and recover–he didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself.

-Ethel Rohan, The Weight of Him: A Novel

The Young Widower’s Handbook

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You don’t fall in love at first sight, or first kiss even, but many months later, at that indelible moment when you awake in her bed before sunrise, her breath hot on your back, arm draped across your ribs, the contours of her hips flowing into you, and you feel like you’re two interlocking puzzle pieces, built specifically to fit together with each other and no one else.

-Tom McAllister, The Young Widower’s Handbook: A Novel

South and West

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In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology.

-Joan Didion, South and West: From a Notebook

Night School

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In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school. The medal was another Legion of Merit. His second.

-Lee Child, Night School: A Novel

The Refugees

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Fame would strike someone, usually the kind that healthy-minded people would not wish upon themselves, such as being kidnapped and kept prisoner for years, suffering humiliation in a sex scandal, or surviving something typically fatal. These survivors needed someone to help write their memoirs, and their agents might eventually come across me. “At least your name’s not on anything,” my mother once said.

-Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Black-Eyed Women,” in The Refugees

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

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Good evening! Good evening! Good evening to the majestic city of Ceasariyaaaaaah!”

-David Grossman, A Horse Walks into a Bar: A Novel

The World to Come

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Twenty-five years before Texas Tower no. 4 became one of the Air Force’s most unlikely achievements and most lethal peacetime disasters, marooning nineteen wives including Ellie Phelan, Betty Bakke, Edna Kovarick, and Jeannette Laino in their own little stewpots of grief and recrimination, the six-year-old Ellie thought of herself as forever stuck in Kansas: someone who would probably never see Chicago, never mind the Atlantic Ocean.

-Jim Shepard, “Safety Tips for Living Alone,” in The World to Come: Stories

The Found and the Lost

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I shall make my report as if I told a story, this having been the tradition for some time now. You may, however, wonder why a farmer on the planet O is reporting to you as if he were a Mobile of the Ekumen. My story will explain that. But it does not explain itself. Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time, but in the great rapids and the winding shallows, no boat is safe.

-Ursula K. Le Guin, “Another Story of a Fisherman of the Inland Sea,” in The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin