Saturday, April 10, 2010

Great First Lines: Donald Ray Pollock

"My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old."

That's from Donald Ray Pollock's "Real Life," the opening story from his collection Knockemstiff.

I've been thinking about first lines a lot lately, mostly because my reading time is so limited these days, and because if a story/novel/essay doesn't grab me with its first line, I may not make it any farther.

It's sort of a sad commentary, I guess. Yes, my attention span is dwindling, my readerly patience has likewise diminished, my brain doesn't work as well as it used to (three kids, lack of sleep, blah blah blah).

I haven't read Pollock's book yet (I just got it), but the first sentence drew me in, made me want to read more. I read the line and it immediately got me wondering: What kind of a father shows his seven year old how to hurt someone? What will happen from here? There's also a kind of matter-of-factness to the tone that really works.

First lines are so important. You used to hear that the first page of a story was crucial. But that first line -- it's the initial communication between reader and writer, and it can be so powerful when done well.

I'm planning to periodically post other story first lines that grab me. We'll see how it goes.

You can read another Pollock story (with another great opening line: "I was hiding out in Frankie Johnson’s car, a canary-yellow '69 Super Bee that could shit and get.") here.

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