The first line of a story is what a writer uses to pull the reader in. It is also often the hardest one to write. There are first lines that create a mood: “Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a forest” is how Jennifer Egan begins “What the Forest Remembers.” There are first lines that set a scene: “In June, Grant drove his project Mazda with the FFA sticker south, out of Montana’s spring rain squalls to Oklahoma, drinking Red Bull and Jolt Cola, grinding his teeth, with his saddle in the back seat” is the evocative opening salvo of Thomas McGuane’s “Take Half, Leave Half.” There are first lines that aim to introduce a character, and those that aim to introduce a problem: “She did not want to visit the old lady,” Alexander MacLeod writes at the beginning of his story “Once Removed.” There are first lines that start a story in the middle. Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Nondisclosure Agreement” opens this way: “There must have been some sort of defective wiring in the early-warning system of my brain, because by the time the owner put his hand on my thigh I was already in way too deep.” There are first lines from which you feel you can predict the kind of story you’re embarking on, and first lines that give little away: “ ‘Yes,’ she said” is the first sentence of Shirley Jackson’s “Call Me Ishmael.” And there are first lines that tell an entire story by themselves. Consider the opening sentence of Ben Lerner’s “Café Loup”:
As a way of celebrating the many, varied New Yorker stories of 2022, we offer up this quiz. Test your recall of the year’s fiction, or your instinct for writers’ methods, by matching each first line to its author’s name. Then click each first line to see the answer.
Cynthia Ozick | Arthur Krystal | Camille Bordas | Jonathan Lethem | Joshua Ferris | Nicole Krauss | Sheila Heti | Mohsin Hamid | Lauren Groff | Alejandro Zambra
3. This is not a rewrite of that story in which plants and animals and people keep winding up dead over the course of a school year, but it starts the same, and it feels odd not to acknowledge, so I will.