We all know the first line of Moby Dick by heart.
Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” Is probably the most recognizable first line in all of literature. It’s simple, it’s personable, and it’s got the reader asking questions right away. It just works.
But that’s not the first line we’re looking at today. No, today’s opening comes to you from Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical, apocalyptic classic, Cat’s Cradle. Here it is:
“Call me Jonah.”
Hold on- wait a second. Hear me out before you send a fusillade of spitwads Vonnegut’s way. Here’s why it’s brilliant. Cat’s Cradle is a book about man and his madness- much like Moby Dick. So it’s an homage to Melville in that regard. But Vonnegut uses the familiar (some would say trite), opening as a pivot into his patented humorous style. It quickly becomes a parody, as he spits out lines 2, 3 and 4 in a kind of bumbling narrative that tips us off to the fact that we are about to read something funny, sad and absurd.
“Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.
“Jonah‑John- if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still- not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail.”
I think that opening sets the tone of the novel beautifully, even if it is made from 100% recycled materials. What say you?