Writers are very aware of this thing called a hook. The hook, in reference to literary agents is the line you use to, well, hook them in your query letter. That’s not the only time the hook comes into play. It is generally accepted that a writer, once they actually have a book in print, have only won half the battle; the other half being hooking the reader. It is also generally accepted that a writer has only sixty or so pages in which to do so.
Most books use every last inch of those sixty pages to build toward the books theme and story line, gradually sucking the reader into the remaining three hundred or so pages by getting them invested in the story during those first critical chapters. Very rarely does a writer manage to hook me in the first page, let alone the very first sentence. Alice Sebold takes the prize for the most intriguing opening to a book I have ever had the pleasure to read.
“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”
Eleven words. That’s all. Brief, succinct, and brilliant. Why did she kill her own mother? And for that matter, why did it come so easily? These are the very soul shaking questions the reader is left with as (s)he makes her way through the rest of the page, and inevitably, the entire novel.
Although, soul shaking is nothing new for Sebold. Whatever source of personal anguish/professional insight she has brought to the literary table, Sebold has tapped into that je ne sais quoi, that certain something.
I knew this to be true when I read Sebold’s first book, Lucky. Believe it or not, it was required reading for a seminar course in research methods during my last semester of my undergraduate year. Despite the fact that I was putting the finishing touches on my thesis, and was just barely glancing at other required readings, I gave Lucky a shot. The course focused on ethnography, and the book, I knew, was a memoir about Sebold’s rape while in college. I’ll tell you, as writer, it takes a solid brass set to spill your personal demons on the pages in the manner Sebold did and not have to be swept up off the floor afterwards.
Since then, Sebold has continued to impress with The Lovely Bones, which I hear is being made into a movie. Success then, for a writer, must mean having your words made into images. The Almost Moon could just as easily be brought to film. I, however, wouldn’t watch it. I wouldn’t want to ruin that feeling of urgency I had while reading it, that intense desire to get to the next page, to get more information, to find out what happens to Helen, the murderous daughter. That single brilliant line simply can not be transfered to the screen without losing the magic.
So read it. But be ready to devote twenty four hours to following Helen in the twenty four hours after killing her mother, and all of the baggage, rage, sympathy, and stoic resiliance the book will bring you.