The blog of author Dennis Cooper

James Nulick presents … 14 Beginnings


The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. This is the opening line from Samuel Beckett’s novel Murphy. In modern literature it would be difficult to find another opening line as comedic, or as memorable, as this one. ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan’ just doesn’t have the same zing to it. ‘It began as a mistake,’ the opening line from Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, comes close, but for overall comic dread, Beckett wins. The opening lines of a novel are akin to travel by airplane. You have the excitement of initial takeoff. We are leaving the runway. There is a lot of noise in the beginning, maybe a bit of praying. Perhaps you are pushed back into your seat, lightheaded. Once the novel is safely up in the air, the wheels retract and the rudders are prepared for the long haul, the plateau of storytelling. This is where the real work takes place. But the opening of the novel – getting the passengers, the readers – onboard, is of the utmost importance. If a novel doesn’t catch our attention immediately, within the first few paragraphs, it is likely doomed. We put it down and move on, looking for another beauty in the darkness. Here are fourteen novels with memorable openings – at least, memorable to me. They managed to hold my attention, I stood rapt before their power, and like the stranger secretly watching us from the dark corner of the bar, I wanted to know more about them. Perhaps one of these 14 beginnings will speak to you.  – James Nulick

















Answer key

1) William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying
2) Samuel Beckett – Murphy
3) David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
4) Georges Bataille – The Story of the Eye
5) Lydia Davis – The End of the Story
6) Fyodor Dostoevsky – Notes from Underground
7) Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio – The Adventures of the Ingenious Alfanhuí
8) Joan Didion – The White Album
9) Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
10) Scott Bradfield – The History of Luminous Motion
11) James Baldwin – Giovanni’s Room
12) Elizabeth Hardwick – Sleepless Nights
13) Steve Weiner – The Museum of Love
14) Dennis Cooper – Closer



p.s. Hey. Today we get the pleasure of this variegating, puzzle-y guest post from stellar author and d.l. James Nulick, and please do indulge to your curiosity’s content. Thank you ever so much, James. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Thank you, it’s very nice to be back here and in touch with you again. Wow, that’s awesome news about the imminent publications! So cool! Hobart is an excellent vehicle. That’s so great to hear, Dora! Yay! I can’t wait to read your works. Obviously, let us/me know when they’re accessible. How was the beer fest? My yesterday was kind of hazy, I guess understandably, as I adjust to not running around all day and evening for the first time in a while. Catching up on stuff. I had a nice if inadvertently very long walk when I went out to buy cigarettes and realized that everything was closed for May 1st except, finally, in the Japanese/French area. It was a good day of adjusting mostly. How was your Tuesday, my pal? ** Steevee, Hi. The rally was quite large and heartening. I had to exit at a certain point because it got rowdy with the police, and I can’t risk getting in trouble here because of my non-status. Well, pragmatically, the weird scene in the abandoned building could have gone wrong because things just didn’t click of their own accord, but it was weird. Our lead actor said he felt scared being in the building, and he had a hard time getting his performance right. HitlersBitch is based in Germany, no big surprise, I guess. I can’t remember wherein exactly. ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you, David! Yes, Zac and I are very happy with almost everything. Yes, the husband of the slain cop’s eulogy was very beautiful, and that was very much remarked upon here. I don’t know (remember?) what ‘Seventeen’ is, but I will use that password and find out today. Thanks! ** Tosh Berman, Lovely to have your presence within reach again, sir. ** New Juche, Hi, Joe. The producers want us to start editing in a week and a half, and we want to start editing in two-and-a-half weeks, and we will be informed this morning whether our wish for more in-between time will be granted. Excited to get the package! Thank you so much in advance! You’re home, and with a new motorbike, sweet. Are you working on a new work? ** Damien Ark, Hey there, Damien! Thanks about the shoot photos. Yeah, we’re ultra-jazzed and excited to start editing and find out if our optimism is warranted. The electronic track in the club scene is Thomas Brinkmann’s ‘PSA’. Finding a ghost or two in the footage would be a boon, but not orbs. We’d just have to laboriously erase those. Wow, you’re on one of life’s cusps. What’s your post-associates plan? As a doer of any, many drafts of everything I write (except the p.s., obviously), I suspect the pay off will have been worth the weirdness. You know, the Nazi fetish is strangely very rare, at least in the Master/Slave scene. I would think it would be a staple, but I only come across guys into that fetish maybe once every six months if that. And the slave did say he was into snuff, so … there’s that, I guess? ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! Mm, actually quite a lot of the scenes turned out differently than I/we had imagined, a lot of the time because the performers, who we knew were really good, just really blew us away with what they brought to their parts, and also because we were forced to shoot very fast, which meant our original plans/shot list had to be greatly consolidated in order to get everything filmed, and so the scenes’ visualization changed a lot, often on the spot, but, luckily, we were happy with what we ended up with. Ultimately, I can say that most of the scenes exceeded our expectations. The only ones that didn’t were due to technical problems, and there were only a few of those. The Guibert uninterested me for a lot of reasons. One, I feel like I’ve read that book a hundreds times before: gay aesthete romanticizing his longings for a rough, straight or semi-straight boy. The boy’s effect being infinitely more important than the boy. The conceit that the writer’s gift for portraying his own emotions is so transcendent that it makes his condescension towards and objectification of the boy a non-issue. And while I thought the writing/translation was graceful enough, it seemed pretty unremarkable, both in its quality and in its observations. I felt like Guibert was trying to do Roland Barthes at his gayest but without the genius and also a bit of Genet without the daring and corrosiveness. I actually thought Bruce Hainley’s introduction was much more interesting than the Guibert text. And, also, given how little Guibert is available in English, why translate/publish such a slight work? I don’t know. I wasn’t into it. I’m very glad your epic battle with computers is finally over. Jesus, that was quite a trek. Maybe some good news? I’m on tenterhooks. ** H, Hi. Thank you. Your Akerman piece sounds very intriguing. I will hope to get to read it when you’re finished, very much! Nope, didn’t like that ‘new’ Guibert much. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I wouldn’t say the rally was fun, but it was interesting. The Left here is quite divided about how to defeat Le Pen, so there’s a confused feeling amidst the attempt at solidarity. But it was good. The way the press outside of France writes about Le Pen is mostly obnoxious and half-informed and salacious and is of no help whatsoever. RIP: Jean Stein, indeed. That’s very sad. ** Misanthrope, Hey, G. *Psst* he wasn’t really dead. ‘Same old shit’ is life itself, man. I’m a ‘same old shit’ guy myself. Who isn’t, really? The shit is always greener? Yuck, sorry. Lots of funny stuff happened during the shoot, but I’m trying to think of something that would be funny if you weren’t there. Mm, there’s a scene in the film where a character who’s obsessed with pinatas, but who collects them yet doesn’t want to use/break them, hangs one in his tree and breaks it. It was a custom made piñata meant to do a particular non-pinata-like thing, and we only had three of them, and the actor kept smashing it to bits in a way that didn’t let it do what it was custom made to do, which actually doesn’t sound funny at all now that I describe it, but it was. Sorry. ** Kyler, Hi, K! Nice to see you, man! Well, with the new film, we’re actually hoping you’ll get to see it in actual theater, if all goes well. Unlike ‘LCTG’, it’s a real movie, or, well, ‘real’ ‘movie’, albeit in a very strange way. I do speak to my sister, we’re good. And I am close with my nephew. I don’t speak to one of my brothers. Yeah, strangely, Mercury Retrograde seems to have been very kind to us out in Cherbourg. I hope its passing gives you a hell of a boost on every front. ** Right. Make sure to thoroughly dig through James’ post today, and, as always with guest-posts, I hope you will reward the post and its maker by giving it/him your comments. See you tomorrow.


  1. I haven’t read nearly enough but one I like is the rambling 13 row opener from The rules of attraction that starts: “and it’s a story that might bore you, but you don’t have to listen, because I always knew it was going to be like that..”

    I wrote another short poem today and again, I’d like to share it here: http://ferdbird77.blogspot.co.za/2017/05/an-ode-to-love.html

  2. Very good work, James but the best opener IMO is Camus’ “The Stranger” : “Mother died yesterday, or was it the day before?”

    And then there’s always Proust: “De longtemps Je me couche de Bonheur”

    Regarding Guibert, the “straight-acting/straight-seeming” dude as festish object never occurred to me. His best work, IMO was the screenplay of Chereau’s “L’Homme Blesse”

    As for Genet, he never made a gay/straight distinction that I’m aware of. he spoke of his love for the men he met and had sex with in prison. “Our Lady of the Flowers” meant a ton to me as a gay teenager. But Genet didn’t write it for me, or any other gay person. The effect he had on Gay Culture was in many respects inadvertent.

  3. James, thank you for this excellent post! Although I’m relieved it wasn’t an actual puzzle because my score would probably suck. And whenever I did scroll to the “answers” at the end I’d often go, “Duh, of course…” But this was a pleasure.

    I’m about halfway through This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan right now and I’m enjoying it a great deal. Sort of like a really good Mojo article about fictitious bands, but it’s better and weirder than that makes it sound. It’s even got an index in the back which is a pretty cool thing for a novel.

  4. Some really lovely choices on here James! I’m especially fond of the Marquez. One of my all time favorite opening sentences to be sure.

    Hi Dennis! Dropping in to say hello and congratulations on wrapping up the shooting portion of your film! Do you feel as though you were able to accomplish the things that you set out to? Editing next I assume, and then we will be lucky enough to see the product of all of your hard work. I for one am thoroughly looking forward to it!

    Lots of love,

  5. Dóra Grőber

    May 2, 2017 at 6:18 pm


    Thank you so much for your nice words! It means a lot! Shirley Magazine’s new issue came out yesterday evening and here’s my piece in it: http://www.shirleymag.com/#mother-nature
    And yes. I’m so very proud to be a writer (soon to be) featured on Hobart! I love what they do.
    The beer fest was kind of… primitive; I wasn’t exactly prepared for the masses celebrating May 1st, haha. But spending time with my friend was great. Looks like yesterday’s ‘holiday’ status came as a surprise for you too, then! But, aside from that, going back to a normal routine must be quite refreshing!

    I had a day filled with mostly uninteresting but necessary errands (like cleaning and stuff) and then I re-worked a little the homepage of SCAB. So nothing major but still a productive day.
    How are things on your end? I hope everything’s lovely!

  6. I was always a big fan of the first page of “American Psycho.” “Less Than Zero” as well.

    Dennis, welcome back and glad to hear the shoot went well. To answer your question posed to me yesterday, it’s pretty much been same old, same old. Right now I’m reading “The Autobiography of Arthur Machen” at night and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Capricorn” by day. The Machen book (itself a Tartarus Press reprint) collects his two autobiographies (1922’s “Far Off Things” and 1923’s “Things Near and Far”) and collects them in one volume. I’m almost done the first one now. One of my all-time favorite Machen quotes for years now has been (in relation to the gap that sometimes exists between a writer’s initial inspiration for a book and the sometimes lacking final result) “one dreams in fire and works in clay.” I was always curious about which of Machen’s books that one appeared in, and now I know it is “Far Off Things,” so it was cool to finally see it in its original context (I felt the same way about coming across Nietzsche’s famous quote about gazing into the Abyss when I read “Beyond Good and Evil” earlier this year). I think that when I finish the Machen bio I’ll next read Cosey Fanny Tutti’s “Art Sex Music” book, and then my youngest brother’s new novel (which, at only a little over 400 pages, is practically a short story by his usual standards). As for my day readings, upon finishing “Capricorn” my plan is to next read “The Cutest Girl in the Class,” a book that came out a few years ago and that was recently reprinted by Snuggly Books: it was written by Justin Isis, Quentin S. Crisp and Brendan Connell (all friends of mine). Then after that “Moriah,” the new book by Daniel Mills (another acquaintance of mine), and the recent NYRB reprint of Leonora Carrington’s “Down Below” (which at 112 pages is quite short: last month I read her “complete short stories” collection). Speaking of Snuggly Books, they have another collection of Jean Lorrain’s short fiction coming out this summer I believe.

  7. james-

    i reognized a couple of these! some of my more literary friends give me shit for LOVING ‘infinite jest.’ i keep telling them it’s personal and fuck off. great openers. i even recognized a couple straightaway (story of the eye, IJ, closer, white album). isn’t it great when you read a book that’s so good the opening pages get stuck in yr head forever? pretty sure i’ve got marbled swarm more or less memorized.


    so rare i get time to comment.

    oh! i read french hole a couple weeks ago. i know you say it isn’t essential to understanding TMS, but i think it helped.

    since last we met, let’s see. i’m working all the time. i told you i got a job cooking, yes? and i really like it. i am considering buying shows for either the interpol ‘turn on the bright lights’ anniversary tour with deerhunter (playing LA on 30 sep) or the upcoming afghan whigs tour. maybe both. i know you aren’t the hugest fan of afghan whigs, but you should give their new one a spin. it’s really good.

    currently, i have a big bag of mushrooms and a not quite as big bag of pot. the mushrooms are for a coworker, but i’m keeping a fat eighth from them. the pot’s mine. pot’s legal here now.

    you finished filming for the new one, yes? very stoked. i told you i got LCTG, yeah? i still haven’t watched it because i don’t have a DVD player here, which makes me sad.

    did you see the poster for ‘isle of dogs’? wes anderson’s new one? the cast is. holy jesus so stacked. and it’s coming out on 20 apr. so i will be REALLY REALLY baked when i see it. because ‘420 smoke weed every day’ or something.

    did i tell you about the twitter debate i got in with ted leo and AC newman on the merits of zen arcade v. flip yr wig? it made me think of you. i still haven’t reversed my stance on new pornos being totally boring, but newman’s always been a nice guy whenever i’ve interacted with him.

    i went on this big badfinger/nilsson kick a couple months ago. might influence a guest post if i can get enough computer time to assemble it (i do basically everything from my phone now). where do you stand on badfinger re: power pop? like, do they make the cut? or are they proto-power, like big star?

    i have a ton of things to do on this, my most offest of days (because tomorrow i go back to work). talk soon. love you.


  8. Dennis, I see why you didn’t like that Guibert translation. I get that kind of selfish thing, from time to time, in his work in general.

    Oh, will just dedicate my Akerman piece to you. Sounds like a nice idea. Hope you had a restful day, if you could.

  9. James Nulick

    May 3, 2017 at 3:26 am

    I guess Didion’s ‘the white album’ is technically a book of essays, but it reads like a novel.

    Rewrite, that is an excellent thing to say when someone gives you shit about enjoying Infinite Jest! I will defend IJ to the death! I have a buddy who also gives me a hard time about liking it, but I don’t give a rats!

    Dennis, I’m so glad to hear the film shoot went well! Does the production company have that much say on when to start editing the film? Is Michael S. doing the editing, or Zac, or someone else? I’m really hoping an entity like the SIFF here in Seattle will show it on one of their screens. Was any CGI involved?

    Thank you to everyone who commented on today’s choices!


  10. I feel like things are moving very quickly for me, mental health-wise, right now, which isn’t necessarily positive. In the space of a few days, I’ve grown from being very grateful to my new meds for making me so much calmer to feeling frustrated at them for making me feel dopey and over-medicated (particularly today; yesterday was better.) It doesn’t help that I’m in the middle of reviewing a lengthy film which has to be seen over several days and I’m wondering whether I’m up to it, although I’m sure I can pull myself together and write a review tomorrow. I’m seeing my doctor Thursday, and one of the questions I want to ask is “How soon can we start cutting down on the meds’ dosage?” It also really doesn’t help that my health insurance won’t pay for them and I’m dependent on free samples from my doctor.

  11. James, This is ace. I like the idea that you came up with idea. A bit miffed, though, that I didn’t recognize Closer upon reading it. However, I did read it 50 years ago, so my memory’s taken a few tumbles since then.

    Dennis, He’s not dead? Whaaatttt?

    Okay, maybe that story isn’t funny in the telling, but here’s where it is funny: imagining myself on set watching it. I’d be pissing myself. My life tends to be a lot like that aborted-over-and-over-before-it-gets-done-just-right pinata scene. And all I do is just fucking giggle the whole time because it’s both so ludicrous and typical and just part of how Life goes so many times for most of us. Otherwise, I’d be crying all the fucking time.

    I was thinking about Closer the other day and the Joy Division album of the same name, and how somebody should write an essay comparing them to the whole Wizard of Oz-Dark Side of the Moon and get people trying to read Closer in a certain cadence while listening to the album. Total bullshit, of course, but a hell of a prank or satire. I can just see people now reading it and trying to get it to match up with the album. Just some silly thoughts on my part. Shit I think about while stuck in traffic.

  12. James, very enjoyable beginnings today, thanks.

    Welcome back Dennis! Good to hear the filming went well for the most part. Maybe we get some sneak peeks?

    “The Babadook” is not unflawed, but definitely worth a look. Just got back from the new David Lynch doc. The glimpses of his paintings are pretty enticing, but I can’t say it’s essential.


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