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Classic Opening/Closing Lines

Some books/stories hook you from the first sentence; others stun you with a closing that makes you sad that the work ever had to end.

Opening and closing line(s) differ - anyone can read an opening line and be as well informed as one who has read the same (full story) text many times. Closing lines are different: Sometimes they stand on their own; sometimes it is important to have read the entire piece to really get the value from the closing word (Macleans' story "And A River Runs Through It" is a text-book example of such); other endings are just made better by having read the story (Updike's "A & P").

Here are some of my favorites.

Notes: For foreign works, translations may differ; unless otherwise noted, quotation is opening line(s). (Top 10 Index)
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Murphy's Xmas, Murphy Stories - Mark Costello
Outside the new snow falls and inside it is over. Annie is asleep in his arms and Murphy lies sleepless on a numb and chiming cross of his own making...

then Michael stands over them, takes aim at Murphy and

makes his final declaration: Bang

bang, bang

you're dead Daddy

you're dead

And for the first time in his life, Murphy lies there and knows it.

[last lines of last story in book]

A & P - John Updike
Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he's just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

[last lines]

A Christmas Memory - Truman Capote
But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880s; more and more thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless dirdless coiming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather!"
And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

[last lines]

A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton
I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortuante accident. I hadn't learned that it can happen so gradually you don't lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing. You don't necessarily sense the motion. I've found it takes at least two and generally three things to alter the course of a life: You slip the truth once, and then again, and one more time, and there you are, feeling for a moment, that it was sudden, your arrival at the bottom of the heap.

A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Artic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

[closing lines]

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to a single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen foward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that the could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

[closing lines]

Anna Karenia - Leo Tolstoy
All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Girl, Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen
People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is, it's easy.

Guests of the Nation - Frank O'Connor
Noble says he saw everything ten times the size, as though there were notihing in the world but that little patch of bog with the two Englishmen stiffening into it, but with me it was as if the patch of bog where the Englishmen were was a million miles away, and even Noble and the old woman, mumbling behind me, and the birds and the bloody stars were all far away, and I was somehow very small and very lost and lonely like a child astray in the snow. And anything that happend me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.

[last lines]

Nevsky Prospect - Nikolai Gogol
It lies at all times does Nevsky Avenue, but most of all when night hovers over it in a thick mass, picking out the white from the dun-colored houses, and all the town thunders and blazes with lights, and the thousands of carriages come driving from the bridges, the ourtriders shouting and jogging up and down on their horses, and when the devil himself lights all the street lamps to show everything in anything but its true colors.

[last lines]

Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things still lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

[last lines]

Rabbit Run - John Updike
Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little side-street is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and window sills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. This illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.

[last lines]

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
I am American, Chicago-born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky - Stephen Crane
"Married?" said Scratchy. Seemingly for the first time, he saw the drooping, drowning woman at the other mans's side. "No!" he said. He was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world. He moved a pace backward, and his arm, with the revolver, dropped to his side. "Is this the lady?" he asked.

"Yes; this is the lady," answered Potter.

"Well," said Wilson at last, slowly. "I s'posed it's all off now."

"It's all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn't make the trouble." Potter lifted his valise.

"Well, I 'low it's off, Jack," said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. "Married!" He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and, placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

[last lines]

The Country Husband - John Cheever
Then it is dark; it is a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains.

[last line]

The Dead - James Joyce
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thckly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly throughout the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

[closing lines]

The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
As Gregor Samsa awoke one moring from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched gegments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completly. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

The Stranger - Albert Camus
Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday. I can't be sure. The telegram from the home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

The Trial - Franz Kafka
Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

Ulyssess - James Joyce
...and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geramiums and catuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountian yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

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