First Line Favorites


“Every morning Ellie West listened to her son get out of bed.” This is how The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell begins. And this is how my new segment about First Line Favorites begins as well. After all, what’s not to love about first lines?

While sounding casual, Rowell deftly pulls the reader into a time in American history when everyday lives were affected by an extraordinary event–Senator Robert Kennedy’s funeral train journeying from New York to Washington, DC. His first line hooks the reader by raising a question. Why? Why is Ellie listening to her son getting out of bed every morning?

The sentence that follows intensifies that question:  “With her husband, Joe, not yet awake, she tuned in so intently to the sounds two rooms down that she could feel some part of her leaving their bed and drifting down the hall.” Now the reader wants to know how old Ellie’s son is, and why she is so attuned to her son’s morning risings? 

As it turns out, Ellie’s son, Jamie, is a Vietnam veteran who’s returned home after losing his leg in battle. And Jamie is just one of the myriad of characters whose day will be forever changed by the passing of Kennedy’s train through their lives. One thing’s for sure, Rowell had this reader hooked from the start.