How to Begin an Essay: 13 Engaging Strategies

ThoughtCo / Hugo Lin

  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

An effective introductory paragraph both informs and motivates. It lets readers know what your essay is about and it encourages them to keep reading.

There are countless ways to begin an essay effectively. As a start, here are 13 introductory strategies accompanied by examples from a wide range of professional writers.

State Your Thesis Briefly and Directly

But avoid making your thesis a bald announcement, such as "This essay is about...". 

"It is time, at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this. Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday...." (Michael J. Arlen, "Ode to Thanksgiving." The Camera Age: Essays on Television . Penguin, 1982)

Pose a Question Related to Your Subject

Follow up the question with an answer, or an invitation for your readers to answer the question.

"What is the charm of necklaces? Why would anyone put something extra around their neck and then invest it with special significance? A necklace doesn't afford warmth in cold weather, like a scarf, or protection in combat, like chain mail; it only decorates. We might say, it borrows meaning from what it surrounds and sets off, the head with its supremely important material contents, and the face, that register of the soul. When photographers discuss the way in which a photograph reduces the reality it represents, they mention not only the passage from three dimensions to two, but also the selection of a point de vue that favors the top of the body rather than the bottom, and the front rather than the back. The face is the jewel in the crown of the body, and so we give it a setting." (Emily R. Grosholz, "On Necklaces." Prairie Schooner , Summer 2007)

State an Interesting Fact About Your Subject

" The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. If you cannot buy this, Google it. Female falcons had grown dangerously scarce. A few wistful males nevertheless maintained a sort of sexual loitering ground. The hat was imagined, constructed, and then forthrightly worn by the ornithologist as he patrolled this loitering ground, singing, Chee-up! Chee-up! and bowing like an overpolite Japanese Buddhist trying to tell somebody goodbye...." (David James Duncan, "Cherish This Ecstasy." The Sun , July 2008)

Present Your Thesis as a Recent Discovery or Revelation

"I've finally figured out the difference between neat people and sloppy people. The distinction is, as always, moral. Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people." (Suzanne Britt Jordan, "Neat People vs. Sloppy People." Show and Tell . Morning Owl Press, 1983)

Briefly Describe the Primary Setting of Your Essay

"It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two." (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)

Recount an Incident That Dramatizes Your Subject

"One October afternoon three years ago while I was visiting my parents, my mother made a request I dreaded and longed to fulfill. She had just poured me a cup of Earl Grey from her Japanese iron teapot, shaped like a little pumpkin; outside, two cardinals splashed in the birdbath in the weak Connecticut sunlight. Her white hair was gathered at the nape of her neck, and her voice was low. “Please help me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off,” she said, using my father’s first name. I nodded, and my heart knocked." (Katy Butler, "What Broke My Father's Heart." The New York Times Magazine , June 18, 2010)

Use the Narrative Strategy of Delay

The narrative strategy of delay allows you to put off identifying your subject just long enough to pique your readers' interest without frustrating them. 

"They woof. Though I have photographed them before, I have never heard them speak, for they are mostly silent birds. Lacking a syrinx, the avian equivalent of the human larynx, they are incapable of song. According to field guides the only sounds they make are grunts and hisses, though the Hawk Conservancy in the United Kingdom reports that adults may utter a croaking coo and that young black vultures, when annoyed, emit a kind of immature snarl...." (Lee Zacharias, "Buzzards." Southern Humanities Review , 2007)

Use the Historical Present Tense

An effective method of beginning an essay is to use historical present tense to relate an incident from the past as if it were happening now. 

"Ben and I are sitting side by side in the very back of his mother’s station wagon. We face glowing white headlights of cars following us, our sneakers pressed against the back hatch door. This is our joy—his and mine—to sit turned away from our moms and dads in this place that feels like a secret, as though they are not even in the car with us. They have just taken us out to dinner, and now we are driving home. Years from this evening, I won’t actually be sure that this boy sitting beside me is named Ben. But that doesn’t matter tonight. What I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this fact before we return to our separate houses, next door to each other. We are both five." (Ryan Van Meter, "First." The Gettysburg Review , Winter 2008)

Briefly Describe a Process That Leads Into Your Subject

"I like to take my time when I pronounce someone dead. The bare-minimum requirement is one minute with a stethoscope pressed to someone’s chest, listening for a sound that is not there; with my fingers bearing down on the side of someone’s neck, feeling for an absent pulse; with a flashlight beamed into someone’s fixed and dilated pupils, waiting for the constriction that will not come. If I’m in a hurry, I can do all of these in sixty seconds, but when I have the time, I like to take a minute with each task." (Jane Churchon, "The Dead Book." The Sun , February 2009)

Reveal a Secret or Make a Candid Observation

"I spy on my patients. Ought not a doctor to observe his patients by any means and from any stance, that he might the more fully assemble evidence? So I stand in doorways of hospital rooms and gaze. Oh, it is not all that furtive an act. Those in bed need only look up to discover me. But they never do." ( Richard Selzer , "The Discus Thrower." Confessions of a Knife . Simon & Schuster, 1979)

Open with a Riddle, Joke, or Humorous Quotation

You can use a riddle , joke, or humorous quotation to reveal something about your subject. 

" Q: What did Eve say to Adam on being expelled from the Garden of Eden? A: 'I think we're in a time of transition.' The irony of this joke is not lost as we begin a new century and anxieties about social change seem rife. The implication of this message, covering the first of many periods of transition, is that change is normal; there is, in fact, no era or society in which change is not a permanent feature of the social landscape...." (Betty G. Farrell, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture . Westview Press, 1999)

Offer a Contrast Between Past and Present

"As a child, I was made to look out the window of a moving car and appreciate the beautiful scenery, with the result that now I don't care much for nature. I prefer parks, ones with radios going chuckawaka chuckawaka and the delicious whiff of bratwurst and cigarette smoke." (Garrison Keillor, "Walking Down The Canyon." Time , July 31, 2000)

Offer a Contrast Between Image and Reality

A compelling essay can begin with a contrast between a common misconception and the opposing truth. 

"They aren’t what most people think they are. Human eyes, touted as ethereal objects by poets and novelists throughout history, are nothing more than white spheres, somewhat larger than your average marble, covered by a leather-like tissue known as sclera and filled with nature’s facsimile of Jell-O. Your beloved’s eyes may pierce your heart, but in all likelihood they closely resemble the eyes of every other person on the planet. At least I hope they do, for otherwise he or she suffers from severe myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), or worse...." (John Gamel, "The Elegant Eye." Alaska Quarterly Review , 2009)

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  • What Is Expository Writing?

The writer of the academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence. The beginning of the essay is a crucial first step in this process. In order to engage readers and establish your authority, the beginning of your essay has to accomplish certain business. Your beginning should introduce the essay, focus it, and orient readers.

Introduce the Essay.  The beginning lets your readers know what the essay is about, the  topic . The essay's topic does not exist in a vacuum, however; part of letting readers know what your essay is about means establishing the essay's  context , the frame within which you will approach your topic. For instance, in an essay about the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, the context may be a particular legal theory about the speech right; it may be historical information concerning the writing of the amendment; it may be a contemporary dispute over flag burning; or it may be a question raised by the text itself. The point here is that, in establishing the essay's context, you are also limiting your topic. That is, you are framing an approach to your topic that necessarily eliminates other approaches. Thus, when you determine your context, you simultaneously narrow your topic and take a big step toward focusing your essay. Here's an example.

The paragraph goes on. But as you can see, Chopin's novel (the topic) is introduced in the context of the critical and moral controversy its publication engendered.

Focus the Essay.  Beyond introducing your topic, your beginning must also let readers know what the central issue is. What question or problem will you be thinking about? You can pose a question that will lead to your idea (in which case, your idea will be the answer to your question), or you can make a thesis statement. Or you can do both: you can ask a question and immediately suggest the answer that your essay will argue. Here's an example from an essay about Memorial Hall.

The fullness of your idea will not emerge until your conclusion, but your beginning must clearly indicate the direction your idea will take, must set your essay on that road. And whether you focus your essay by posing a question, stating a thesis, or combining these approaches, by the end of your beginning, readers should know what you're writing about, and  why —and why they might want to read on.

Orient Readers.  Orienting readers, locating them in your discussion, means providing information and explanations wherever necessary for your readers' understanding. Orienting is important throughout your essay, but it is crucial in the beginning. Readers who don't have the information they need to follow your discussion will get lost and quit reading. (Your teachers, of course, will trudge on.) Supplying the necessary information to orient your readers may be as simple as answering the journalist's questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why. It may mean providing a brief overview of events or a summary of the text you'll be analyzing. If the source text is brief, such as the First Amendment, you might just quote it. If the text is well known, your summary, for most audiences, won't need to be more than an identifying phrase or two:

Often, however, you will want to summarize your source more fully so that readers can follow your analysis of it.

Questions of Length and Order.  How long should the beginning be? The length should be proportionate to the length and complexity of the whole essay. For instance, if you're writing a five-page essay analyzing a single text, your beginning should be brief, no more than one or two paragraphs. On the other hand, it may take a couple of pages to set up a ten-page essay.

Does the business of the beginning have to be addressed in a particular order? No, but the order should be logical. Usually, for instance, the question or statement that focuses the essay comes at the end of the beginning, where it serves as the jumping-off point for the middle, or main body, of the essay. Topic and context are often intertwined, but the context may be established before the particular topic is introduced. In other words, the order in which you accomplish the business of the beginning is flexible and should be determined by your purpose.

Opening Strategies.  There is still the further question of how to start. What makes a good opening? You can start with specific facts and information, a keynote quotation, a question, an anecdote, or an image. But whatever sort of opening you choose, it should be directly related to your focus. A snappy quotation that doesn't help establish the context for your essay or that later plays no part in your thinking will only mislead readers and blur your focus. Be as direct and specific as you can be. This means you should avoid two types of openings:

  • The history-of-the-world (or long-distance) opening, which aims to establish a context for the essay by getting a long running start: "Ever since the dawn of civilized life, societies have struggled to reconcile the need for change with the need for order." What are we talking about here, political revolution or a new brand of soft drink? Get to it.
  • The funnel opening (a variation on the same theme), which starts with something broad and general and "funnels" its way down to a specific topic. If your essay is an argument about state-mandated prayer in public schools, don't start by generalizing about religion; start with the specific topic at hand.

Remember.  After working your way through the whole draft, testing your thinking against the evidence, perhaps changing direction or modifying the idea you started with, go back to your beginning and make sure it still provides a clear focus for the essay. Then clarify and sharpen your focus as needed. Clear, direct beginnings rarely present themselves ready-made; they must be written, and rewritten, into the sort of sharp-eyed clarity that engages readers and establishes your authority.

Copyright 1999, Patricia Kain, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

  • Crossword Tips

Clue: Beginning

Referring crossword puzzle answers.

  • DAWN (Used today)

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Essay Writing Crossword

Essay Writing Crossword


Something you need to present at the start The main part of the text Des Weiteren: in English Nichtsdestotrotz Final summary of your essay Initial statement and lead into your text Something to substantiate your arguments Subject of your essay Statement of the main idea of your text Unit in your text in which you deliver a single argument Non fictional part of your argumentation (Adrin!)

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Frequently asked questions, what is a crossword.

Crossword puzzles have been published in newspapers and other publications since 1873. They consist of a grid of squares where the player aims to write words both horizontally and vertically.

Next to the crossword will be a series of questions or clues, which relate to the various rows or lines of boxes in the crossword. The player reads the question or clue, and tries to find a word that answers the question in the same amount of letters as there are boxes in the related crossword row or line.

Some of the words will share letters, so will need to match up with each other. The words can vary in length and complexity, as can the clues.

Who is a crossword suitable for?

The fantastic thing about crosswords is, they are completely flexible for whatever age or reading level you need. You can use many words to create a complex crossword for adults, or just a couple of words for younger children.

Crosswords can use any word you like, big or small, so there are literally countless combinations that you can create for templates. It is easy to customise the template to the age or learning level of your students.

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For the easiest crossword templates, WordMint is the way to go!

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For a quick and easy pre-made template, simply search through WordMint’s existing 500,000+ templates . With so many to choose from, you’re bound to find the right one for you!

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How do I choose the clues for my crossword?

Once you’ve picked a theme, choose clues that match your students current difficulty level. For younger children, this may be as simple as a question of “What color is the sky?” with an answer of “blue”.

Are crosswords good for students?

Crosswords are a great exercise for students' problem solving and cognitive abilities. Not only do they need to solve a clue and think of the correct answer, but they also have to consider all of the other words in the crossword to make sure the words fit together.

Crosswords are great for building and using vocabulary.

If this is your first time using a crossword with your students, you could create a crossword FAQ template for them to give them the basic instructions.

Can I print my crossword template?

All of our templates can be exported into Microsoft Word to easily print, or you can save your work as a PDF to print for the entire class. Your puzzles get saved into your account for easy access and printing in the future, so you don’t need to worry about saving them at work or at home!

Can I create crosswords in other languages?

Crosswords are a fantastic resource for students learning a foreign language as they test their reading, comprehension and writing all at the same time. When learning a new language, this type of test using multiple different skills is great to solidify students' learning.

We have full support for crossword templates in languages such as Spanish, French and Japanese with diacritics including over 100,000 images, so you can create an entire crossword in your target language including all of the titles, and clues.

BEGINNING Crossword clue

Crossword answers for beginning, top answers for: beginning, top answers for beginning crossword clue from newspapers, definition of beginning.

  • the act of starting something; "he was responsible for the beginning of negotiations"; the event consisting of the start of something; "the beginning of the war"; the first part or section of something; "`It was a dark and stormy night' is a hackneyed beginning for a story"; the place where something begins, where it springs into being; "the Italian beginning of the Renaissance"; "Jupiter was the origin of the radiation"; "Pittsburgh is the source of the Ohio River"; "communism's Russian root"; the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the get-go that he was the man for her"

BEGINNING Crossword puzzle solutions

80 Solutions - 10 Top suggestions & 70 further suggestions. We have 80 solutions for the frequently searched for crossword lexicon term BEGINNING. Furthermore and additionally we have 70 Further solutions for this paraphrase.

For the puzzel question BEGINNING we have solutions for the following word lenghts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12.

Your user suggestion for BEGINNING

Find for us the 81nth solution for BEGINNING and send it to our e-mail (crossword-at-the-crossword-solver com) with the subject "New solution suggestion for BEGINNING". Do you have an improvement for our crossword puzzle solutions for BEGINNING, please send us an e-mail with the subject: "Suggestion for improvement on solution to BEGINNING".

Frequently asked questions for Beginning:

What is the best solution to the riddle beginning.

Solution ASOF is our most searched for solution by our visitors. Solution ASOF is 4 letters long. We have 6 further solutions of the same word length.

How many solutions do we have for the crossword puzzle BEGINNING?

We have 80 solutions to the crossword puzzle BEGINNING. The longest solution is COMMENCEMENT with 12 letters and the shortest solution is EGG with 3 letters.

How can I find the solution for the term BEGINNING?

With help from our search you can look for words of a certain length. Our intelligent search sorts between the most frequent solutions and the most searched for questions. You can completely free of charge search through several million solutions to hundreds of thousands of crossword puzzle questions.

How many letters long are the solutions for BEGINNING?

The lenght of the solutions is between 3 and 12 letters. In total we have solutions for 10 word lengths.

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wordplay, the crossword column

Starting Word That’s Often Skipped

Jeremy Newton owes us an explanation.

French schoolchildren pass through a courtyard with a colorfully painted hopscotch board.

By Sam Corbin

Jump to: Today’s Theme | Tricky Clues

MONDAY PUZZLE — In a themed crossword, constructors tend to include a revealer, a kind of breadcrumb trail that leads us definitively to the puzzle’s trick. In today’s puzzle, in contrast, Jeremy Newton seems to have scattered the entire loaf — if we’re sticking with the bread analogy — throughout his grid.

After I got the gist of Mr. Newton’s theme, it was a delight to keep discovering new dimensions of its execution. Joel Fagliano, a senior puzzle editor for The New York Times, echoed this sentiment in his commentary on what made the grid stand out. “It’s so hard to come up with a simple concept that involves multiple layers like this,” he said. Mr. Fagliano also cited today’s crossword, which he said “unfolds beautifully,” as one of his favorite Monday puzzles of the past few years. And lucky us, we get to solve it now.

Today’s Theme

Before proceeding, I should apologize: The summary of today’s column is a play on words. I’m not saying that Mr. Newton owes us an explanation — I mean that he O’s us one. Because we learn, “by following the path of O’s in this puzzle’s grid” (33A), exactly what Mr. Newton is up to.

These O’s, which “Zig or zag” (11A) — i.e. TURN — through a winding route from left to right, represent a ball in a game of MINIGOLF (18A). I was especially delighted by this game’s alliterative clue: “Popular pastime played with putters.”

Holes in MINIGOLF are often designed so that their walls can act as conduits for the ball. And here, our ball ricochets from the TEE (58A) right into the CUP (8A), scoring a HOLE-IN-ONE SHOT (33/34/35A)! Solvers of the digital version should see a whimsical completion animation of the winning putt.

Ever more the wordsmith than the athlete, I’d say working out this theme was just as thrilling as the achievement it celebrates. And according to Mr. Fagliano, it wasn’t easy to build. “Even the elegance of HOLE / IN ONE / SHOT crossing the path of O’s in three ways, that’s just a remarkable feat of construction,” he said.

Tricky Clues

12A. For my money, YO DOG qualifies as a “Slangy greeting” only when its second word is spelled just as slangily as its first: “dawg.”

31A. The diagonal line of O’s was the only thing that clued me into the fact that a “Small group of trees” couldn’t be a copse. Only GROVE worked.

56A. The entry for “Zero chance, pal!” often has a partner phrase: “No way” tends to precede NO HOW. (If you solved this entry without trouble, you have know -how.)

7D. The “Topic of a wistful breakup song” is LOST LOVE, and the Times Crossword seems to have an opinion about who sings them best: On two previous occasions, this entry was clued using Adele.

9D. Whenever a clue uses abbreviations, our entry needs to as well. “Neighbor of Arg. and Braz.” is URU, short for Uruguay.

49D. What’s one way to “Try to lighten up?” In the case of a question-marked clue, go for wit; the answer is a DIET.

Constructor Notes

I love crossword themes that use a letter to symbolize a real-world object. A few fun examples in past New York Times puzzles include stacked H’s for a ladder and a column of I’s for a spider’s thread . For years I’ve tinkered with rolling the letter O around the puzzle like a golf ball. The concept finally clicked when I noticed that an O could zigzag neatly through the answer HOLE-IN-ONE SHOT. Because this puzzle is in a 15x15 grid and not a larger Sunday grid, it seemed perfect for a MINIGOLF theme. I arranged black squares to help form the kind of winding path you might find on a minigolf course. The circle for the CUP was there from the beginning of construction. And when the grid was nearly filled, using the shaded square to represent a TEE pad seemed like the best starting point. It makes me happy that two visual mainstays of crossword puzzles — the circled square and the shaded square — are joining forces for this theme. I’m very proud to call this my first Monday puzzle for The Times! I’d heard that Mondays were traditionally tougher to make, since every answer must be clean and intuitive, and the rumors were 100 percent legit. In particular, smoothing out answers along the ricocheting path of O’s was a formidable challenge. Thank you to the puzzle team for adding a special post-solve animation to the digital version! I hope you enjoyed this Monday crossword, which I unofficially call “That’s Putting It Nicely!”

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Sam Corbin writes about language, wordplay and the daily crossword for The Times. More about Sam Corbin

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WordleBot , our daily Wordle companion that tells you how skillful or lucky you are, is getting an upgrade. Here’s what to know .

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  • LA Times Crossword
  • April 25 2024

The Sacred Art of Giving __: Ta-Nehisi Coates essay about a friendly greeting

While searching our database we found 1 possible solution for the: The Sacred Art of Giving __: Ta-Nehisi Coates essay about a friendly greeting crossword clue.  This crossword clue was last seen on April 25 2024 LA Times Crossword puzzle . The solution we have for The Sacred Art of Giving __: Ta-Nehisi Coates essay about a friendly greeting has a total of 3 letters.

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Related clues.

We have found 2 other crossword clues with the same answer.

  • Kwik Seal maker
  • Big name in caulk and sealant

Related Answers

We have found 0 other crossword answers for this clue.

Other April 25 2024 Puzzle Clues

There are a total of 75 clues in April 25 2024 crossword puzzle.

  • Well take it from here
  • Sloth in Ice Age
  • In short initialism
  • Giant diamond
  • With 9-Down traveling employees allowance

If you have already solved this crossword clue and are looking for the main post then head over to LA Times Crossword April 25 2024 Answers

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Facts and figures.

There are a total of 1 crossword puzzles on our site and 170,822 clues.

The shortest answer in our database is ORT which contains 3 Characters.

Morsel is the crossword clue of the shortest answer.

The longest answer in our database is IVEGOTABLANKSPACEBABY which contains 21 Characters.

Opening line? is the crossword clue of the longest answer.

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beginning of essay crossword

The Female-Midlife-Crisis Novel

Miranda July’s new book is full of estrangement, eroticism, and whimsy.

Desert landscape with curving road through it and motel sign with four tires on road casting shadows

B ack when the word weird (or, in the spelling of the day, wyrd  ) was first commonly used in English, it was not an adjective but a noun, and it functioned as a synonym for fate . A person wasn’t weird; instead a person had a weird, which was theirs alone, determined by forces beyond control and understanding. Shakespeare’s “Weird Sisters” in Macbeth helped transform the word, linking its supernatural connotations with an aesthetic quality. Those three crones know the future—they seem to know everything, standing astride the temporal and the miraculous as they do. In them, the old and the new weird s meet: They are creatures in touch with the workings of fate, but they are also inexplicable, creepy, queer, spooky, deviant from the norm.

Explore the June 2024 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find your next story to read.

I have been thinking about this word and its overtones since reading All Fours , the second novel by the idiosyncratic interdisciplinary artist Miranda July, probably best known for her work as a filmmaker . As I made my way through the book, I kept remarking to myself, and writing in the margins, “This is so weird.” That’s not a bad thing, in my personal lexicon, though in this instance I was registering a persistent feeling of bafflement. July’s middle-aged protagonist—a “semi-famous” artist known for her early multi-genre success (who, like July, has worked across film, writing, and performance)—consistently acted on instincts I didn’t understand and made choices I couldn’t imagine anyone making. As a narrator, she was not just unreliable but unpredictable, unsettling, shimmeringly strange.

Read: Miranda July on ‘Kajillionaire’ and nice people in Hollywood

This unnamed narrator—who, being a wry Los Angeles creative type, enjoys half-mockingly noting that she is a minor celebrity—is perplexing even to herself. Stalled out in her art practice and dissatisfied in her marriage (stable, loving, stale) to a music producer, she decides to drive to New York, leaving him and their young child behind for three weeks. She conceives the trip ostensibly to prove a point. At a party, her husband offhandedly suggests that people fall into two personality types: Drivers and Parkers. Drivers can immerse themselves in the ongoingness of life; they enjoy time with their children and pets; they’re good on road trips because they’re present and steady. Parkers “need a discrete task that seems impossible, something that takes every bit of focus and for which they might receive applause,” or they lapse into boredom and disappointment. The artist feels that she is being pegged as a Parker, and undertakes this road trip, she tells herself, to “finally become the sort of chill, grounded woman I’d always wanted to be.” That this is overly literal and somewhat illogical—leaving your family for three weeks doesn’t suggest a willingness to be present in daily ongoingness and child-rearing—doesn’t occur to her.

But even the artist is aware that this classic plot—a combination of the American road trip and the midlife crisis , both clichéd subgenres of the quest narrative—is the kind of trope that she typically wouldn’t bother with. Naturally, the road trip, and by extension the novel, goes sideways immediately. July herself has never been given to making chill, grounded art.

The narrator hasn’t gotten an hour away from her house before she makes eye contact with a young man at a gas station in Monrovia. A few minutes later, they run into each other at a nearby restaurant, and as they talk, he mentions that he works at Hertz and that he and his interior-decorator wife are trying to save $20,000 as a “nest egg.” For no discernible reason, the narrator proceeds to drive first to one of his Hertz locations and then to a dingy motel, where she rents a room. Soon after, she commissions the wife (without mentioning her encounter with the husband) to redecorate the motel room to look like a room at Le Bristol hotel, in Paris, for a fee of $20,000.

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Is she stalking the Hertz guy, nearly 15 years her junior? Is this an art project? Whether July is presenting this as an earnest hero’s journey or as a self-skewering satire of the free spirit who does erratic things upon hitting her mid-40s and calls it art isn’t clear. That may sound like a huge flaw in the novel, and it does sometimes feel like a glitch, yet the ambiguity about what July and her narrator are up to makes the novel as intriguing as it is frustrating. July thwarts the reader’s instinct to decipher whether this is a narrative about miraculous fate or one about an odd character’s mundane sexual and hormonal odyssey. Instead, she writes as though there’s no difference.

I ’m not the first to be cheerfully confounded by July’s oeuvre, which amounts to a multipronged investigation of alienation from what the world sees as “normal.” Critics have often dismissively described her enterprise as “twee,” likely because she is fashionable and somewhat affectless, and her work features West Coast oddballs who blend quirkiness and borderline erotic perversity. Stylistically, she rides the line between deadpan humor and earnest absurdity. To take a representative example, in the first of her three feature-length films, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), a young video artist (played by July) fixates on a man whose wife has left him, and who recently set one of his hands on fire in an ill-conceived stunt to impress their children; secondary plotlines involve a middle-aged man leaving sexually explicit messages for two teen girls, and a woman planning to meet an internet stranger in the park after being titillated by his suggestion that they “poop back and forth” forever.

All of her projects, which revolve around a sort of randomness and mystery, probe shame and estrangement, but with a tonal lightness. “Who really knows why anyone does anything?” the narrator of All Fours remarks before she embarks on her zany motel-redecoration project. “Nobody knows what’s going on. We are thrown across our lives by winds that started blowing millions of years ago.” This aimlessness, her attunement to randomness, is entwined with her creativity. Yet as she keeps riffing, the narrator drifts toward a formulation of her experiment that’s more specific and ennobled, borrowing from feminist politics.

What kind of monster makes a big show of going away and then hides out right nearby? But this was no good, this line of thought. This was the thinking that had kept every woman from her greatness. There did not have to be an answer to the question why; everything important started out mysterious and this mystery was like a great sea you had to be brave enough to cross. How many times had I turned back at the first ripple of self-doubt? You had to withstand a profound sense of wrongness if you ever wanted to get somewhere new. So far each thing I had done in Monrovia was guided by a version of me that had never been in charge before. A nitwit? A madwoman? Probably. But my more seasoned parts just had to be patient, hold their tongues—their many and sharp tongues—and give this new girl a chance.

The appearance of the word monster comes as no surprise here. The female artist who does battle with what Virginia Woolf called “the Angel in the House” and leaves home to accomplish something inscrutable to her family and society at large still seems obligated to reckon with whether this act is horrific. As the critic Lauren Elkin observes in her recent book, Art Monsters , the impulse to demonize women who refuse domesticity in favor of creative exploration goes back hundreds of years (at least). So does the female artist’s own willingness to wonder whether her impulses are reprehensible .

July’s artist is consciously pushing back against this legacy here—she will not be kept from her greatness!—while July herself seems also to be lightly ridiculing the way her character’s politically enlightened logic is leading her into a foolish, perhaps unjustifiable set of actions. Her ghost self travels onward—she keeps track of where she should be, dutifully reporting home about the sights she isn’t seeing—while she remains installed in a Louis XIV–style motel room, where she is not busy making great art. Instead, she is masturbating furiously, overwhelmed with desire for a married stranger. This behavior is not monstrous, but it is wayward— weyward being an early spelling of weird .

Except that in a sense, it isn’t weyward at all: The narrator’s behavior (her erraticism, even her eroticism) is right on schedule. She has entered perimenopause , when estrogen levels begin to zigzag. This Rumspringa of hers is less about artistic evolution than the bewilderments of hormonal flux and (in her case) the problem of fitting wild, outsize desire into a life of monogamy, heterosexuality, and parenthood. Her yearnings converge: She wants to become more embodied, more honest and self-accepting, and creatively free—a state that she doesn’t entirely believe is possible. Her sexual awakening, experienced just as she’s learning that she’s likely nearing the end of her high-libido years, is baffling, transcendent, and abject. “This kind of desire made a wound you just had to carry with you for the rest of your life. But this was still better than never knowing.”

From the December 2014 issue: The real roots of midlife crisis

Continuing her old life now seems unbearable; leaving it behind is unthinkable. Whether as a woman, a wife, or an artist, July’s narrator has never, as yet, been an integrated person, believing instead in selectively presenting others with different selves, “each real, each with different needs.” For her, “the only dangerous lie was one that asked me to compress myself down into a single convenient entity that one person could understand.” And yet she still dreams of intimacy, of having a self that can be wholly expressed and held by another. “One fine day I would tell him all about me,” she fantasizes, thinking of her husband, “and this trip would be one of my stories. We would be holding each other in bed, saying everything, laughing and crying and being amazed at all the things we didn’t know about each other, the Great Reveal.”

The perimenopausal plotline—easily dismissed as niche and sentimental, unlike its cousin, the plotline of male midlife crisis—may in fact be the perfect form for July, who turns it into something appropriately whimsical and stark. She writes this hormonal crucible so well in part because she seems already positioned to capture precisely how heightened, bizarre, off-putting, confusing, absurd it is; these elements are the hallmarks of her style. In this context, the tone that might have been dismissed as irony or caprice in earlier work takes on a kind of embodied, material plausibility: “I was a throbbing, amorphous ball of light trying to get my head around a motherly, wifely human form,” the narrator reports with true desperation after returning home. What she has found in Monrovia may be weird, but it is also her weird—transgressiveness in search of honest intimacy, performative selfhood in search of authentic freedom. If this truest, weirdest self cannot be contained in the family structure or the social world that she occupies, perhaps breaking that structure counts as creative liberation.

Perimenopause, as the narrator experiences it, is a profound betrayal in that it begins transporting her into crone-hood without her consent, before she is ready. At the same time, the crone, the weird sister, is afforded proximity to the transporting, the repugnant, the queer, the prophetic. This is good for art, or it can be. In one climactic scene of the book—a sort of symbolic consummation with her future self—the artist has sex with an older woman with a connection to the Hertz attendant. “Her skin was beginning to thin with age, like a banana’s, but instead of being gross it felt incredible, velvety warm water. Well, knock me over with a feather , I thought.” After the encounter, in an epiphanic haze, she feels certain that promiscuity is the secret to life. This mania, as July renders it, is both completely earnest and totally laughable—a trademark tension in July’s work since her 20s.

Later, her narrator mulls:

I felt untethered from my age and femininity and thus swimming in great new swaths of freedom and time. One might shift again and again like this, through intimacies, and not outpace oldness exactly, but match its weirdness, its flagrant specificity, with one’s own.

Here, finally, she arrives at something that looks like a viable future, though after her return home from Monrovia, the book loses the fevered outlandishness that July achieves at its apex. The back half of the novel depends largely on an experiment with polyamory, presented as edgy, but an angsty middle-aged artist curing her ennui with an escapist lesbian affair is hardly radical. This delivers its share of tragicomic setbacks—and a banal, if true, realization that “the point was to keep going without a comprehensible end in sight.”

In Art Monsters , Elkin quotes an essay in which Woolf characterizes the two primary obstacles in her writing life: “The first—killing the Angel in the House—I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet.” July frantically disassembles Woolf’s Angel in All Fours , without quite solving Woolf’s second challenge. (Has anyone?) Yet her entry into the canon of attempts to capture that truth, in all its flagrant specificity, is one only she could have produced: fascinating, jarringly funny, sometimes repellent, and strangely powerful.

This article appears in the June 2024 print edition with the headline “Miranda July’s Weird Road Trip.”

​When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.


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