Tuesday, 3 June 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

The cardboard box trembled.

Four words...that work. As far as first sentences go this gets five stars. Why? It has everything an opening sentence needs in order to succeed. Of course there could be more, like character and setting and tone and mood and theme and simile or heck even an onomatopoeic word or two, but then the line would run the risk of trying to do too much. This sentence does not need all that other junk because this line has the one thing an opening sentence must have: conflict, or to be more precise, the foreshadowing of conflict that raises a question. In this case: What is in the box? It's so simple that this almost sounds like the classic question that all stories should begin with: What is in the box? Being curious creatures, we are forced to read on.

Prior to chapter 1 is the heading: 1943, World War II, No Carnival. I like headings; they save a lot of time. There is also a map of Trinidad just after the title page which further illuminates the setting without me needing to read much. I like this, too.

The next sentence:

The panicked squeals from inside it grew louder as I hurried through the overgrown grass.

Even though by sentence 2 we can pretty much infer, at least in general terms, what is in the box, but whether it be a let down or otherwise, the first sentence has done its job in spades at hooking the reader. The scene that begins with the first sentence is interesting enough (the narrator needs to kill whatever is in the box) to hold my attention, as there conflict a plenty.

First thing said:

"Can't be lucky if you's a coward."

This bit of dialogue occurs on page 1, which is nice, but it is something a character 'had always said', that is, part of some back story. I prefer the first thing said to be part of a forward narrative, not something said once upon a time. On the other hand, the advantage to opening with back-story dialogue is that it is almost never of the superfluous chit-chatty type, but instead reveals plot or character. In this case the later.

The only thing I take issue with is the artsy-fartsy title; you know, the ones that begin with an ellipsis..., or a preposition or has a pronoun like: A River Runs through IT or a title that begins with 'And'. Then there's the ones that begin with where, when or how. They ooze pretentious fiction babble. However, in a way an artsy-fartsy title is a blessing in disguise, for with such a title, at least I've been warned. Not that I have anything against artsy-fartsy; it's just that those books tend to be didactic and long-winded with vocabulary that's been found buried deep in the armpits of some dictionary, bursting with imagery that tries to reprogram (or scramble) my brain, by making something as simple as the sun look like the last vestibule of hope in the eye of a dying god. Whatever.

Verdict: Cool

The verdict is high on this because of how effective that little opening line is, and how the opening scene unfolds. If the dialogue in this had been forward narrative speak and if the title didn't bug me so much, this would have been a perfect five-star opening.

Theodore Moracht

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