Brain Candy Sale

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


FPP#4: All Day the Snow Had Been Falling

Today's first paragraph comes from a novel to be published by the Dial Press on February 28th.

All day the snow had been falling. Snow muffled every store and church; drifts erased streets and sidewalks. The punks at the new Harvard Square T stop had tramped off, bright as winter cardinals with their purple tufted hair and orange Mohawks. The sober Vietnam vet on Mass Ave had retreated to Au Bon Pain for coffee. Harvard Yard was quiet with snow. The undergraduates camping there for Harvard's divestment from South Africa had packed up their cardboard boxes, tents, and sleeping bags and begun building snow people. Cambridge schools were closed, but the Philpott Institute was open as usual. In the Mendelssohn-Glass lab, four postdocs and a couple of lab techs were working.

A promising start, one might argue. (Go ahead: argue.) What comes next, do you figure? Is this mystery, literature, sci-fi, a thriller, or an ambitious amalgamation of more than one genre?

So much of a reader's experience depends on timing, and yesterday I couldn't take a book set in winter seriously. That snow rendering Harvard Square quiet... In New York and parts of the Midwest on Sunday, the white stuff was piling up at astonishing rates. Not so here. It had been raining nonstop in Portland for what was starting to seem like several consecutive years, and then into Bizarro World we stumbled: the sun came out for a week. Straight. It might be July before we see so much blue sky again, and with the workweek looming...

Windows opened. Throughout the Willamette Valley, porches were swept and gardens tended. On the elementary school playground behind my backyard, toddlers swung and see-sawed. Parents gabbed contentedly. The high school hoops player next door found enough willing participants for the year's first outdoor three-on-three. Farther down my block, a Rhododendron, drunk on photosynthesis, has rushed into bloom.

Saturday morning I started The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank's 2005 novel-in-stories. Sunday afternoon I finished. Two days with the Applebaum family took me all the way from turntables to cell phones; we covered a lot of ground, Sophie Applebaum and I, from Hebrew School well into our thirties. But other than the night Sophie wandered around Manhattan in the rain, Bank's novel exists in an adamantly weather-free zone. Call it climate agnostic. Which worked out perfectly: The only weather I wanted to acknowledge this weekend was my own.

The Wonder Spot also happens to be one of the more perceptive novels about family and relationships that I've read in years (lest you walk away thinking that a lack of meteorological interruption was the book's most appealing quality). I'm tempted to compare the Applebaums to the Lamberts (from The Corrections). You'd never confuse the consciously literary, third-person stylings of Jonathan Franzen with Bank's talky, girl-next-door narration, but both authors trick out the subtle (and occasionally debilitating) machinations of "typical" American families with such sly and precise observation that you're made to alternately laugh and shudder. It's all so damn familiar.

Ms. Bank will be at Powell's for a reading and an interview next Tuesday, February 21st. If you can't make the event and there's something you'd like me to ask her, please just let me know.

[Turn back to the previous First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

Update: FPP#4 title and author here.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Wonder Spot Used Hardcover $1.95
  2. The Corrections
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  3. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural...
    Used Hardcover $9.95
  4. Intuition: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $6.95

Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

7 Responses to "FPP#4: All Day the Snow Had Been Falling"

    alexis February 13th, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    I love the first line--how it goes "all day the snow had been falling" and not "the snow had been falling all day." Somehow, immediately framing the snow in the space of the day evokes the hush the second line is going for. I get a little annoyed with the people entering the scene (or leaving it). I'd like to linger in the quiet more, see the tree branches, and the buried cars, and the steam on the kitchen windows.

    But maybe I'm only saying that because I'm a sun-drunk Portlander who has been wearing flip-flops for two days straight. Winter is so beautiful from a distance...

    Seth Christenfeld February 13th, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    I'm intrigued, partly because I spent two abortive years at college in Mass and the description of Harvard Square brings back memories.

    Venkman February 14th, 2006 at 11:18 am

    I'm instantly reminded of #1 in Elmore Leonard's immortal 10 Rules of Writing: "Never open a book with weather....The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people."

    Precisely! Wake me when the weather report is finished...

    Dave (Post Author) February 14th, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Just a hunch here, Venkman: Has no one ever told you that a little foreplay goes a long way?

    The Elmore Leonard advice is great (and eminently quotable), but c'mon: we've moved past the weather by the end of the paragraph. And don't tell me that "The undergraduates camping there for Harvard's divestment from South Africa had packed up their cardboard boxes, tents, and sleeping bags and begun building snow people" doesn't make you smile just a tiny bit. That's a fine, quiet jab -- particularly how the series graduates from boxes (wow, these protesters are serious) to tents (well, kind of serious) to sleeping bags (on the other hand maybe trust fund babies) and finally snow people (isn't activism fun!).

    alexis February 14th, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    Hm...I don't know, Dave, I'm vaguely annoyed by the "jab" at the activists. It's too easy to make fun of rich kids who go away to college and suddenly get a conscience. Even easier to throw a few punks and street people into a scene. It's the standard cast of characters for the city backdrop. What's interesting is that in the midst of this suddenly strangely quiet place some grad students are working furiously in a lab to reanimate corpses for Harvard's Army of Doom. Or whatever.

    Okay. I'm interested. I'll read the next paragraph.

    Venkman February 15th, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Okay, forget about the weather... if the next paragraph has grad students working furiously in a lab to reanimate corpses for Harvard's Army of Doom, then I'll buy the book!

    Georgie February 16th, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    It is reminding me of the introdution of either a high-tech thriller or a mystery so far -- that narrowing in on the scientists. I agree with Alexis that the backdrop is rather predictable, which doesn't bode well. But i would read on to see if it was a promising idea for a mystery. If so, I'd read a bit more to see if was became a good mystery. So many are not...

Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at