A well-meaning friend sent me a copy of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian over the summer. He viewed this as a gift; I did not. I've been dodging this elephantine bloodsucker since I first spotted its Susanna Clarkish dimensions causing a book dump to collapse in the center at BAM. Also, a first novel that exceeds 500 pages, in my experience, has either not been adequately edited, and/or was written by someone with whom I have as much in common as I do, say, Anne Coulter.
Finally this week I opened the book and read the first line. She got a lot of money for this book, and I truly wasn't jealous. I just wanted it to be great. I wanted her to deserve that whomping contract and to give me the book equivalent of a bigass box of CrackerJack with a diamond ring prize inside so I could write up something about the book here. This is what I got:
The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.
How did Kostova's first published line grab me? Well, I immediately slammed the cover shut and put it on the TBRMBID* shelf. The cats like to hang on that shelf and cough up hairballs. Sometimes Jak has a bladder spasm while he's throwing up. A girl can hope.
I suspect that this was a carefully crafted, much-thought-over lit-head hook line (you can almost smell the rewrite ink.) Obviously it was supposed to intrigue me, and maybe if I was a novel size queen I'd be all over it. Drown me in stories you never intended to tell me, baby.
Problem is, I'm a writer. When you land a deal like Kostova did, and write a novel so long that each chapter requires their own edition of Cliff Notes, the last thing you should start your book with is, "Gee, I never meant to write this." It's like kicking a boy in the family jewels and standing over him while he writhes in pain and then murmuring, "Golly, does that hurt?"
Yeah, I'm going to want to read more of that.
I didn't throw The Historian in the trash, so there's still a slim chance that I'll recover from the slap of that ridiculous line and go back for another shot. If I throw your book in the garbage, though, it's definitely abandon hope all ye time.
That's the first time I've ever had such a negative reaction to an opening line. I can't decide if it's a rational reaction or I am jealous or in writer denial or something. I think (besides the gift aspect) that's the other reason I didn't toss the book. One line instant aversion isn't being fair to Elizabeth Kostova. I gave old Susanna Clarke a whole 54 pages before I gave up on her doorstop with the lousy punctuation. Liz deserves at least as much.
Do you expect a prize inside from an author who lands a huge deal for their novel? Do you feel cheated when you don't find it?
*To be read maybe before I'm dead.