25 October, 2021

LitStaff Pick: Our Favorite Opening Lines

Pie Dance
Molly Giles

The best first sentences, says Stanley Fish (How to Write a Sentence,
2011), have what he calls an “angle of lean.” These are sentences that
“lean forward, inclining in the direction of the elaborations they
anticipate.” I love this description, the way it gives a visual image—the
incline—to the idea of what first sentences do, lean toward all the
sentences to come. It’s a perfect way to describe what happens reading the
first sentence of Molly Giles’ “Pie Dance:”

I don’t know what to do about my husband’s new wife.”

This lion of a story, like its narrator, is both plainspoken and daring. It’s a perfect story, compact and at the same time bursting, small yet utterly expansive, and full of intensely domestic things—brooms, purses, radios, blackberries. The first sentence deftly contains the conflict, distills it to essential form, and swiftly describes the narrator’s dilemma, matter-of-factly compressing the contradiction that drives the
plot. I can’t think of a better way to begin, with the author dropping this perfectly formed gem of a sentence into the reader’s hand.

-Lauren Alwan

3 thoughts on “LitStaff Pick: Our Favorite Opening Lines

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