Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


While reading Joan Aiken's marvelous posthumous collection The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories (published last year by Small Beer Press -- get a copy asap), I was again impressed by the author's ability to craft opening sentences to her stories.  Some examples:

     - It was her pearls that caused the first fight between Dan Thomas and Shani Hughes.  ("Model Wife")

     - Miss Dawson was generally wild and haggard-looking, but that Friday morning there was something so strange about her that Miss Pellet at once guessed the worst must have happened.  ("Second Thoughts")

     - Her name was Daisy and she was a smasher, the crispest colleen in Killyclancy.  ("Girl in a Whirl")

     - It was a fatal for Robert Kellaway, magazine illustrator, comfirmed misogynist, and avoider of the female sex when a picture of him appeared in the editorial column of Herself.  (Red-Hot Favorite")

     - The town of Rohun, or Rune, was a dying town, and its inhabitants liked it that way.  ("The Paper Queen")

     - Like large plums fallen soggily to earth, the mayor and corporation of Ryme stood in the garden of Nathaniel Bond's house and looked at the Magnesia Tree. ("The Magnesia Tree")

     - A wave swung high and lazily, with a curve like the white breast of a pouter pigeon, swept little Miss Roe clean off the deck of the elderly immigrant ship where she lay sleeping in the sun, and sucked her back underwater without any noise or commotion; she vanished among sea-thistles, tangled ocean-daisies, foamtips crossing this way and that, and the glitter of fins bright as mica.  ("Honeymaroon")

     - It wasn't till long afterwards that Father told me about his journey home with the harp.  ("Harp Music")

     - The van, which was labeled Modway Television, chugged up a long, steep hill, slipped thankfully into top gear, and ran down through the fringes of beechwood bordering a small star-shaped valley which lay sunk in the top of the downs.  ("The Sale of Midsummer")

     - Paris in the rainy morning:  like a series of triangles cut from pewter.  ("The Helper")

     - Gay and glorious, one day every year, the market square of this little town is, and that's the day in September when the fair comes, and music peals, and roundabouts whirl, and the through-traffic, if it wants to get by, has to give the town a miss and scrape along side lanes past sodden blackberry hedges.  ("Water of Youth")

     - 'The radio is out of order," said Mr. Newberry, putting his head round the kitchen door.  (Spur of the Moment")

     - Hot night.  ("Octopi in the Sky")

     - FAMOUS PICTURE DISCOVERED AFTER FIFTY YEARS:  said the headlines.  ("The Monkey's Wedding")

     - This story was told to me by my Aunt Martha.  ("Wee Robin")

     Each opening sentence makes me want to dive into the story immediately, knowing that something good (perhaps great) lay ahead.  Many of them foreshadow a tale of magic or wimsy.  An opening sentence should nudge you to read further, should make you want to spend the time involved to read the story, and should lead you logically to each succeeding sentence.  Joan Aiken had that special talent for me.

     Which authors usually knock you out with their opening sentences?

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