Finding a fantastic book is a little like falling in love. A book may instantly captivate us from its opening line. We feel an instant familiar connection to something unique and powerful.
Sometimes it takes a bit longer, like a slow-blossoming relationship, when we only begin relating to the story somewhere in the middle, and it gets better and better towards the end.
On occasion, it may not even be the story or the characters that hooks us in, but instead powerful imagery or a brilliant narrative.
So one line or one paragraph can grab us. But can it make a book memorable?
No matter what sort of kinship we develop with a particular novel, it only becomes memorable when we think about the story or the characters long after we’ve read the last line.
So in the spirit of trying something new, here are remarkable lines (in some instances paragraphs) from some of this year’s noteworthy fiction. See if they hook you.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan: Who can resist a line like this? It sums up so many things about the hurt of the artistic soul: God said, let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.
The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler: Love and loss. How can we not be attracted to a line that sums up the human ability to endure love’s many tribulations? But she placed the stub in the center of the table anyway, her fingers clumsy; left the breadcrumb for him to trace her by.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride: Ah, the game of waiting for a great passion or a great love to return. But is it really? Then he just walks out, leaving me in the midst of this half-unpacked life, letting me look at it and I, what can I do but wait?
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang: Chang reels us in with the one of the most powerful lines in the novel, stating the apparent death of the American dream as seen by a ruined Chinese immigrant: History had started fucking Charles Wang, and America had finished the job.
Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney: This line depicts everything that McInerney has previously said about the New York in the ’80s: that people are too busy trying to play the game and not taking the time to enjoy the moment. “We didn’t know it was the eighties at the time, Washington said. “No one told us until about 1987, and by then it was almost over.”
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows: Although the premise of the story is a woman’s dangerous tangle with infidelity, her attempts to make it right and prove her love to her husband are present in this one line: He would never know her cruelty of heart. Samuel, Samuel. His kindness and his faith. Here she was. She took his hand. I will come back to you, she thought, if you come back to me.
The Next by Stephanie Gangi: Gangi’s novel about a vindictive ghost is much more than just the story of an angry poltergeist wreaking havoc, shown here by the main character’s contemplation of her reality as she is about to die: This is not my beautiful life, this is not my beautiful death. I roll alone in a dark of my own making, trapped inside a flip-book of the last ten years.
A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock: This line is a powerful pitch to feminism. Why leave it to a man to free a woman, when she is perfectly capable of finding her own way? Leaving was not the answer, it was the question: Who could she become? What opportunities awaited her? The artist did not have to free her. She could free herself.
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett: Barnett here establishes the meaning of happiness and the brevity of its condition. Powerful enough to leave you gaping, I think. And he savours it, drinks it in, because he is old enough to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seem to live in, but to catch when it comes and to hold on to for as long as you can.
People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper: After this opening, are you not dying to know what happens next? I would say Hooper is a master of the come-hither tactic. People who knew me think I’m dead. The words rolled around the back of my throat, like clothes in a slow spin cycle.
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close: The desperation of hating a place that doesn’t feel like home – haven’t you ever felt it? Even if you haven’t, the main character’s state of mind leaves you wanting to know more: When we’d gotten the GPS, Matt had set it to speak in an Australian accent, which was funny at first. But now I couldn’t understand the stupid Aussie. Tell me where to go, I screamed at her. And then, like she would care, I added, I hate it here.
The After Party by Anton Disclafani: Hiding our true selves from a loved one. Can anybody truthfully say they haven’t done this at least once? Disclafani’s line here is about not only the fear of showing our true selves but how vulnerable we are to the scrutiny of others: Loving and knowing aren’t the same thing, he said with a rueful smile. You can’t know someone who doesn’t want to be known.
Happy Family by Tracy Barone: Can you think of a better metaphor than this to describe the undiscovered aspects of life? With just this line, Barone sums up not only the plot of her entire novel, but also what so many of us experience as we try to find when the path of our own existence: If life is a river, we can only see a small patch of it. A little in front of us, some behind. We don’t know when we’re going to run into a tributary or hit a waterfall.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: The dichotomy of love and war. A new concept? Certainly not. But Simonson sums up perfectly the seemingly disjunctive desire to fall in love while suffering terrible loss. This was the confusion of war, thought Beatrice. That some should sit mourning in a drawing room, or smoothing the brow of a dying boy, while in a cottage on a cobbled street, two young lovers could only choose to stand against the shocking burden of death and loss with their love and their passion.
If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene: Poetry and love. They often go together. With just this line the author draws us into his story, beckoning us to follow him into an unforgettable love story. Around them, everyone is in a hurry, rushing to get somewhere. If poetry is the search for significance, than the stubbornness of love must be its fullest expression.
Watching Edie by Camilla Way: Scared yet? The author has a knack for sowing seeds of panic in just two lines. Just by reading this you know that you’re probably in for a wild and unexpected thriller. I see and hear life continuing in this ordinary afternoon, cars and people, passing children playing down the street, a dog barking, as if from far away, and as I stare into her face, the sour taste of fear creeps around the back of my tongue.
At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole: Tragedy transforms, and what is more tragic than war? That transformation and its result is palpable in this brief extract: In his face, I could see the boy I lost and the man I’d found again. I loved them both.
Monsters, A Love Story by Liz Kay: Why is this person falling apart? Can you feel the desperation emanating from the character’s inner thoughts? In any case, can you really not feel drawn into this story just by this? I cross my arms and turn my head to the side. I hope this looks like I’m just too angry to look at him. I hope he can’t tell I’m shaking. I hope he can’t tell I’m falling apart.
I know that I fell in love with each one of these books just from these lines. So for me, love at first read is absolutely the real deal. What do you think? Are you in love yet?