Dispatches | September 17, 2010

My intermediate fiction class and I were recently talking about story openings. For fun, I had everyone vote on their favorite opening sentences and paragraphs from the current edition of Best American Short Stories. I thought I’d continue the fun here. I’ve typed out the opening sentences of the twenty stories, leaving out the author name and story title.

Which one do you like most?

 1. When I was first out of the conservatory, I did a two-month stint with a theater group called Diciembre.

 2. A year ago Ms. Duffy, the fifth-grade English and history teacher, had come very close to losing it, what with her homeroom being right next to the construction site for the new computer lab, and her attempts to excise the Aztecs from the curriculum being thwarted, and her ill-advised affair with Mr. Polidori coming to an end.

3. “Never take you back, son, hard as it break my heart,” Aunt Cleoma had told Rubiaux.

 4. I learned my Yiddish from my grandfather, who came from Montreal to live with us in Chicago for the last four years of his life, after his health failed and he could no longer stay alone.

 5. In Fox’s sweet shoppe, I once saw a woman take off her shoe, unscrew the heel, and drink from it like a shot glass.

 6. When I set out for Chengdu, in the middle of our country, to interview Xiu Xi, I carried in my jacket pocket an envelope full of kwai—I hadn’t been told the amount—which I was to hand over to Xiu’s manager if I found upon arrival that the starlet was unavailable or uncooperative; her way of saying, Pay me, please.

 7. After my little brother died, we moved from the house on the lagoon to a two-bedroom apartment near I-95.

 8. The land surrounding the house is state forest.

 9. Nonc pulls up outside Chuck E. Cheese’s and hits the hazards on his UPS van.

 10. They are sitting in a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, not far from the Odéon metro stop, three of them sitting, the wife with her husband, the husband with his mother, not inside the café but at one of the tables on the sidewalk where the prices are exorbitant but the view of the passing crowd is almost enough to counter this.

 11. The girl, unlike most people photographed for fashion magazines, was not beautiful.

 12. He thought how strange that a political prisoner, marched through town in a line, chained to the man behind and chained to the man ahead, should take comfort in the fact that this had all happened before.

 13. Because Paula Blake is planning something secret, she feels she must account for her every move and action, overcompensating in her daily chores and agreeing to whatever her husband and children demand.

 14. John D. Rockefeller is hungry.

 15. From everything that Toshi Yukawa could later determine, the original file was uploaded to one of those illegal Brigadoon sites that appeared, drew several thousand ecstatic hits from six continents, then disappeared traceless, twelve hours later, compressing the whole arc of human history into a single day: rough birth, fledgling colonies, prospering community, land grabs and hoarding, shooting wards, imperial decay, and finally, much gnashing of teeth after the inevitable collapse, which seemed to happen faster each time through the cycle.

 16. Archie and Rose McLaverty staked out a homestead where the Little Weed comes rattling down from the Sierra Madre, water named not for miniature flora but for P. H. Weed, a gold-seeker who had starved near its source.

 17. His great-aunt had been born on this land, lived on it eight decades and knew it as well as she knew her husband and children.

 18. Katya is searching for her glasses.

 19. The sound of iron walls adjusting to the underwater pressure around you was like the sound of improbability announcing itself: a broad, deep, awake-you-from-your-stupor kind of salvo.

 20. Isabella was nine years old before she knew what white meant.

Michael Kardos is the author of the story collection One Last Good Time, forthcoming in February 2011 from Press 53. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, he served as Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. He currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. His website is michaelkardos.com.

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