January 21, 2016
Exactly. ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ is a tour de force first sentence (OK, paragraph) in search of a novel…
I have a first sentence I still haven’t bothered to use in 30 years. I doubt I’ll get around to it now. And maybe that’s all it should have been.
Anyhow, this is interesting, although maybe only if you’re a writer:
Paradoxically, the great first sentence, the most extractable part of the novel, is celebrated for its intimate connection to what follows. It’s “the DNA,” Gloria Naylor has said, “spawning the second sentence, the second, the third,” and so on. But the ease with which people construct orphan great first sentences suggests otherwise. To really put that first sentence within the continuous stream of a novel, maybe something less attention-getting is called for, something like “It was a dark and stormy night.” Familiarity aside, it’s a fine sentence. Really. Some nights are darker than others. Some are stormier. The sentence is clean and simple. Certainly, you’re going to want more compelling sentences in the book you’re holding, but a novel shouldn’t have to put its most artful foot forward. Sentences of course can telegraph the future; they can confuse; they can tantalize. But if they’re not allowed a more humble scope than this, then they’re in danger of fleeing the novel—being less important to a book and its readers than to the desperate tussle of financial concerns that pull at it. There’s a danger that a great first sentence might be nothing more than a great first sentence.