Learning from Hanff Korelitz

And then they were eighteen, and not just leaving home but desperate to begin three permanently separate adult lives, which is exactly what would’ve happened if the Oppenheimer family hadn’t taken a turn for the strange and quite possibly unprecedented. But it did – we did – and that has made all the difference.

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz

These sentences end a prologue about triplets that seem to dislike each other, or are at least indifferent toward each other, notwithstanding one parent’s efforts. The prologue hooked me, and I’m enjoying continuing to read the book.

What do these sentences teach about writing?

  • The longer sentence clearly announces a desire and immediately complicates it in a way that implies questions: Strange how? Unprecedented? Really? Readers are likely to read on with an interest in the answers to those questions.
  • A process–leaving home and establishing independent identities–is interrupted. How that process might continue or how it might become something new or what happens if the process is stopped . . . these are all potential sources of tension. The sentences have implications the rest of the book can explore.
  • The second sentence is much shorter, which provides a nice contrast. It also narrates from a self-effacing “we” which appears for the first time in what had seemed a third-person text. The “we” is also in tension with the dislike the triplets have stated for each other. In some sense, they, it seems, speak together. It’s also possible that one of them is comfortable claiming to speak for the others. Which of these two possibilities is the case? Readers read on to find out.
  • Finally, the last phrase is an allusion to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” which emphasizes the theme of “a turn for the strange” verses remaining typical that seems to be developing.

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