Friday, December 9, 2011

First Line Friday!

I’ve felt stymied this week, bogged down, stuck in a rut. So, I’m putting a negative spin on this week’s “First Line Friday.” I want to showcase what, in my mind, is arguably one of the weakest, most ineffective first lines that I have ever read (for a critically acclaimed novel, at that!).

“See the boy.”

In case you missed it, that’s the first line: “See the boy.” That’s it. And guess who wrote it?

Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian, one of the richest, most insanely beautiful novels ever written. And yet, the first line is extremely lacking. It’s too plain, too Biblical, too meaningless. “See the boy.” Ok, I’ll see him. What’s the big deal? There is no implementation of any language that is intriguing in the least.

But I suppose that that's how life is sometimes . . . simply lacking.

In Colum McCann’s solid novel Let the Great World Spin, he states “good days, they come around the oddest corners.” Well, it’s the same with first lines. I fully expected Blood Meridian to have a drop-dead amazing first line. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.

But to be fair, the rest of Blood Meridian more than makes up for a blasé first line.


  1. I was wondering the same thing. According to the Amazon preview, here is the entire first paragraph:

    “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.”

    It still doesn’t do much for me.

    It almost seems like McCarthy is preparing himself to tell the story, rather than telling it. It’s like we’re looking at a legal pad where he’s jotted down a few details he wants to include- but since they’re written in short declarative sentences, one after the other, it feels more like a brainstorm rather than a cohesive narrative.

    I’ll agree with Tucker. It’s a stinker.

  2. I disagree. This is a pretty good first line.

    So simple it draws you in. Like "Call me Ishmael." or "Marley was dead: to begin with." or "Elmer Gantry was drunk." None of them say much, but what comes next?

  3. I think all of those lines ("Call me Ishmael" or "Elmer Gantry was drunk" etc) say significantly more than "See the boy." Granted, they aren't any longer, per se, but they include names (Ishmael and Elmer), declarations (Call me!), states of being (drunk!).

    "See the boy" is too close to being meaningless for me.

  4. I agree with Mac that he's preparing himself to tell the tale, but I don't agree that it's a problem. Not all books begin with a self-possessed narrator. Some begin slowly, insidiously. The narrator of _Blood Meridian_ is not a character in the tale, and the boy from Tennessee isn't much of anything either, not for a long time. The story doesn't get properly underway until the gang of bounty hunters starts to assemble. 

    My point is, not all books start by beginning the tale. Some start before the tale begins, and in a low-key fashion. I think McCarthy does an excellent job of luring the reader in, so that once he *does* start with the blood and thunder, they're well and truly hooked.