Monday, April 1, 2024

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

First published: September 26, 2006

Here's what the story is about: A father and his young son journey on foot across the ash-covered United States toward the sea, several years after a cataclysm destroys all life except for a few humans.

First line/paragraph:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

This story starts in third person POV with the main character waking up, which we are advised is generally not a good idea. However, the tone of the first line is the beginning of the theme and plot of the book, and I think it works here. He's waking up in the woods, it's still dark and cold, and a child is sleeping beside him. This begs the question of why is he in the woods with a child? The tone suggests they are not just camping. The sentences are sometimes run-on, other times fragments. A disjointed recounting of the story, which is vaguely unsettling and makes for a great introduction to the entire theme and plot of the book.

The next few sentences give more clues as to the setting: dark beyond darkness, days increasingly gray. Then kicker phrases that really set the background and plot - “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world” and “raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.” Then it moves to the recollection of a dream, which further sets the tone of the book.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

No comments: