I love most of Anna Karenina, but Lev Grossman says something I’ve always felt but never articulated about the book’s first line:
…Sometimes if I just assume a book is good, I’ll do a lot of readerly work on its behalf, pro bono. I’ll sketch in complex psychologies for characters based on a few lines of suggestive dialogue. I’ll invest chance observations and glib generalizations with a certain profundity I might not otherwise grant them. Like this one: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I have often maintained that this is utter bullshit, and I’m convinced that its bullshittiness would be widely recognized if it did not have the rest of Anna Karenina attached to it. But it does, and people give those lines the benefit of the doubt. Because, you know, Tolstoy.