Touched for the very first time

Bookforum’s Summer issue focuses on a topic near and dear to me: the first novel. It’s worth perusing, especially for this William H. Gass quote: “One’s first novel is not like one’s first kiss—over after an instant of fearful bliss.” There’s also an interesting image from Rebecca Goldstein, who writes, “The first novel is dangerous for an author. It readies the little cubicle for all her future work to be crammed into.”

When I read Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net, I was consumed with jealousy that she’d written such a fabulous 1st novel. When I found out that it was actually her fifth, just her first published work, I became cloaked in a bit of schadenfreude, I admit. But many writers I’ve read about and talked to say their first published novel was not their first written. It just makes me wonder what exactly makes a first novel a first novel, and I like to wonder.

My first novel, in case you’re curious, was written at the age of 19 in my bedroom by my kid’s crib. If I had to summarize it, I’d say it’s about an abused teenage mother telling her unborn fetus, over the period of a single night, the story of its ancestors. It borrowed heavily from the Sheherazade/Duniazad frame. Maybe someday I’ll put it online for fun, but I’m glad it never went out as my first novel.

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