I think Ed’s got a meme here. Best first sentences in fiction. Ed quotes one from Anthony Burgess that is pretty strong.
I’ll look to Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street (which I am currently reading and finding excellent and relevant, despite its original publication date of 1973). The first sentence of this one is good, but the first graf is even better:
Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statemen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity–hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.
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