• Great Beginnings: Let the Great World Spin

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 2 comments

    Let the Great World SpinIt’s been awhile since we last did a Great Beginnings post, and hundreds of you have bombarded me with furious emails demanding I bring it back.

    The WriteByNight blog is nothing if not a democracy.

    But I’ll entertain your wishes anyway.

    So, in early June Colum McCann’s new novel, TransAtlantic, is being released. (Passive voice.) It’s good. Get it, read it. But there are probably rules against me typing out the first paragraph of it, so let’s take a look instead at his previous novel, Let the Great World Spin. There are probably rules against me typing out the first paragraph of this one, too, but fuck it.

    (Note, I used to link a book title to its Goodreads page, but since that site has been taken over by Amazon, I don’t quite know what to do. Hence the link to Wikipedia. When in doubt …)

    Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful. Some thought at first that it must have been a trick of the light, something to do with the weather, an accident of shadowfall. Others figured it might be the perfect city joke–stand around and point upward, until people gathered, tilted their heads, nodded, affirmed, until all were staring upward at nothing at all, like waiting for the end of a Lenny Bruce gag. But the longer they watched, the surer they were. He stood at the very edge of the building, shaped dark against the gray of the morning. A window washer maybe. Or a construction worker. Or a jumper.

    Okay, so, what do we think of this opening paragraph? What does it accomplish? What does it tell us? In what ways, if any, does it fail? Does it make you want to read more? Does it make you gag? Do we learn anything, or can we make any assumptions, about the time period? Are we seriously supposed to believe that “less filling” and “tastes great” are mutually exclusive attributes of a light beer?


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    h. l. nelson

    I like this beginning. It’s dramatic and caught my interest. First, we have the lengthy laundry list of streets named and the “hush” ing going on, which tell us that something important and big may be happening. Then we have the line “It was a silence…” Beautiful line, personifying and dichotomizing the silence itself. Next, the people in the crowd try to explain the man on the ledge as a light trick or a joke, but realize he is real. Finally, we have a short laundry list of what he might be doing/working at, with the most dramatic at the… Read more »

    J. Sommers

    Less filling by a landslide.

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