Great First Lines: “Rose Alley” by Jeremy M. Davies
They shot her screen test in Paris, where I’ve never been, in the private room of the café Tout Va Bien, in the Latin Quarter, newly paved in tar, and still lewd that winter with debris from the blockades of stacked cobblestones—centuries old, pried right off the streets—and the stink of some secret catastrophe.
A disclaimer: Jeremy’s a dear friend and former roommate of mine—but c’mon! That opening line is obviously great. & the whole book is simply fabulous. I was motivated to post this because I just recommended, for the dozenth time, no joke, that a fellow writing classmate read the book …
So what’s going on in this opening line?
There’s the meter, for one thing, a mix of iambs and anapests:
They shot her screen test in Paris,
where I’ve never been,
in the private room of the café Tout Va Bien […]
iamb – iamb – anapest – feminine ending
anapest – iamb
anapest – iamb – anapest – iamb – iamb
Note also the strong internal rhyme scheme: screen / been / Bien / Latin / winter / centuries / stink.
Jeremy’s also referencing Jean-Luc Godard’s 1972 film about Mai 68—which is immensely relevant to the novel’s milieu—
—as well as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) (the chapter is titled “Evelyn Nevers,” which reverences the eventual name of that film’s protagonist, Elle).
(See 1:29:00 onward.)
(And along those lines, note the never been / Nevers rhyme.)
The debris and blockades, of course, refer directly to Mai 68.
Jeremy’s also establishing his occasional first-person narrator’s unreliability—where I’ve never been—which thus hangs over the entire novel. (The whole book is being narrated by a self-professed scholar who lacks direct experience.) This is a book derived entirely from other sources, then—which echoes the procedures Jeremy used to write it. (This fact brings out one of the many puns in the title: Rose Alley = Rouselly.)
And yet still more is going on. There’s the newly / lewd rhyme, and the strong sibilance that the sentence concludes with (streets—and the stink of some secret catastrophe).
Not to mention, it’s also conveying some basic plot information: Evelyn Nevers shot a screen test (for the film Rose Alley).
… Well, that’s a hell of a lot of work for 56 words!
- Lily’s interview with Jeremy;
- Blake’s review;
- my review at Big Other;
- an article I wrote for Golden Handcuffs;
- & RA @Google Books (go read some of it!).
No matter how much attention Jeremy’s book has gotten over the past few years, it’s not nearly enough. It remains, head and shoulders above, one of my favorite recent novels. All of its sentences are this complex, and this good.
Tags: Alain Resnais, blake butler, Counterpath Press, Dalkey Archive Press, Golden Handcuffs, Hiroshima Mon Amour, jean-luc godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, jeremy m. davies, lily hoang, Mai 68, Marguerite Duras, Raymond Roussel, rose alley, Tout va bien