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Thread: Raymond Carver: Great First Sentences

  1. #1

    Raymond Carver: Great First Sentences

    I've been revisiting the short stories of Raymond Carver lately, and I have realized that one of his best tactics is a great first sentence. It is so important, especially with the amount of literature out there to read, to pull the reader in immediately. Some writers do this within the first paragraph, but Raymond Carver almost always does it within the first sentence.

    For example:

    "A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house."
    - from "Viewfinder"

    "In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard."
    - from "Why Don't You Dance?"

    "I was in bed when I heard the gate."
    - from "I Could See The Smallest Things"

    Each of these examples compels me to move forward, wither because I have to get an explanation for something bizarre (e.g. "Viewfinder") or because it is so ordinary I have to know why he even bothered to tell me this (e.g. "I Could See The Smallest Things").

    Who are some other writers that are able to capture the reader in the first sentence? What do you think of Raymond Carver in general and in comparison to Hemingway?

  2. #2

    Cool Both novels and short stories have had some ...

    great opening lines. While I have read everything written by Hemingway, I can't remember any geat openings. The classic one is Dickens' opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, which is too long to repeat here. Daphne du Maurier's opening from Rebecca is memorable:Last Night I dreamt I went to Manderlay Again. Camus' opening of The Stranger is another classic. Poe has some good ones in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

    The ones quoted by the poster are good and make me want to read this author.

    Here's the opening of a short story: No one but the living can know how cold, and desolate a graveyard can be on a blustery day in January.

  3. #3
    Good examples laymonite (are they all from 'What we talk about when we talk about love?') Carver is a master of the first sentence as every great short story writer should be. I find him funnier than Hemingway and more enjoyable as a result. Here are some opening lines (from short stories) that i like.

    'My wife had just out West with a groom from the local dog track, and i was waiting around the house for things to clear up, thinking about catching the train to Florida.' Going to the Dogs - Richard Ford (Rock Springs)

    'There is to begin with the paraphernalia of daily living: all those objects, knives, combs, coins, cups, razors, that are too familiar, too worn and stained with use, a doorknob, a baby's rattle, or too swiftly in passage from hand to mouth or hand to hand to arouse more than casual interest.' In Trust - David Malouf (The Complete Stories)

    ' Rodeo night in a hot little Okie town and Diamond Felts was inside a metal chute a long way from the scratch of Wyoming dirt he named as home, sitting on the back of bull 82N, a loose skinned brindle - Brahma cross identified in the program as Little Kisses' - The Mud Below - Annie Proulx (Close Range)
    Last edited by sixsmith; 09-09-2009 at 06:10 PM.

  4. #4
    A ist der Affe NickAdams's Avatar
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    "It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened." - The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - Hemingway

    " Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and there is a Madrid joke about a father who came to Madrid and inserted an advertisment in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: Paco MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement."
    - The Capital of the World - Hemingway

    I do like Carver's work, I just lent a friend What We Talk About When We Talk About Love as a must read, but I prefer Hemingway.

    "Do you mind if I reel in this fish?" - Dale Harris

    "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." - Ernest Hemingway


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  5. #5
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    I've never read any Raymond Carver. I just went to look at the first sentence of Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (the only Hemmingway novel I've read) and rememebered it actually put me off.

    "Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton."

    I thought, 'Oh no, I didn't think this novel was about boxing.' Turns out it isn't but I wasn't really that fussed by bullfighting either.

    I was actually thinking about first sentences yeasterday because I'm going through the first draft of my first novel and editing. I realised I needed a much better first sentence and for inspiration started yanking books off my shelves at random and noting down the first sentences. My favourite was probably from Nabokov's Lolita:

    "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."

    The whole first paragraph is actually amazing.

    Another one I quite liked was from The Nun by Diderot:

    "The Marquis de Croismare's reply, if he decides to reply, will give me the opening lines of this story."

    I always remember the first sentence of Nineteen Eighty-Four being good, though I don't have my copy at the moment. According to that reliable source, the internet, it is:

    "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
    Last edited by Dark Lady; 09-10-2009 at 03:10 AM. Reason: Two typos - it's way too early
    If you'd like to talk about Blake I promise I'll keep checking this thread. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=45098

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    Joyce - PAYM

    'Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

    And you know you're in for something good at the start of Ian Banks's The Wasp Factory -

    I had been making the rounds of the sacrifice poles the day we heard my brother had escaped'.

  7. #7
    It's hard not to like Raymond Carver's stories such as they are; but such as they are, they aren't what the author had in mind.

    It was recently revealed that Gordon Lish, Raymond Carver's editor, had a such a hand in revising and paring down the author's manuscripts, that the Carver style, the cadence and rhythm of his sentences, are actually the brainchild of Gordon Lish.

    As a result it's hard not to feel somewhat scammed.
    Last edited by catatonic; 09-10-2009 at 12:03 PM.

  8. #8
    A link to the Carver/Lish controversy:

    HTML Code:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/books/17carver.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/bo...ewanted=1&_r=1

    There. I think I've got it now.

  9. #9
    Catatonic brought up a good point about Carver's editor. Here is a link to the original Carver edition of what we know as "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love":

    http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/fea...urrentPage=all

    I'm glad I joined this forum. You are all very knowledgeable and responsive! Thanks for the great replies.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by laymonite
    I've been revisiting the short stories of Raymond Carver lately, and I have realized that one of his best tactics is a great first sentence. It is so important, especially with the amount of literature out there to read, to pull the reader in immediately. Some writers do this within the first paragraph, but Raymond Carver almost always does it within the first sentence.
    Nice quotes, and thanks for sharing. Unfortunately I feel a lot more familiar with Carver's poetry than stories, but I can claim that he has some original first lines in his poetry, too, which can read a lot like prose from time to time. Just opening up one of his collections of poetry, All of Us:

    From "The World Book Salesman":
    He holds conversation sacred
    though a dying art.
    From "Interview":
    Talking about myself all day
    brought back
    something I thought over and
    done with.
    From "The Pen":
    The pen that told the truth
    went into the washing machine
    for its trouble.
    Quote Originally Posted by laymonite
    What do you think of Raymond Carver in general and in comparison to Hemingway?
    Carver in comparison to Hemingway?
    Carver and Hemingway. Yes. They both wrote a lot. And wrote well. And they both died too soon. They had the talent of saying a lot in short sentences - blunt ones, too. Sometimes fragments. Sentences that pierce to the bone with their raw intensity and emotion. Yes. Carver and Hemingway.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by laymonite View Post
    I've been revisiting the short stories of Raymond Carver lately, and I have realized that one of his best tactics is a great first sentence. It is so important, especially with the amount of literature out there to read, to pull the reader in immediately. Some writers do this within the first paragraph, but Raymond Carver almost always does it within the first sentence.

    For example:

    "A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house."
    - from "Viewfinder"

    "In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard."
    - from "Why Don't You Dance?"

    "I was in bed when I heard the gate."
    - from "I Could See The Smallest Things"

    Each of these examples compels me to move forward, wither because I have to get an explanation for something bizarre (e.g. "Viewfinder") or because it is so ordinary I have to know why he even bothered to tell me this (e.g. "I Could See The Smallest Things").

    Who are some other writers that are able to capture the reader in the first sentence? What do you think of Raymond Carver in general and in comparison to Hemingway?
    Re your question about similarities between Raymond Carver and Hemingway in first liners, I totally agree. Both writers were first class in finding extraordinary good opening lines as well as finding truly beatiful names for their books. /Ken

  12. #12
    This celestial seascape! Lynne50's Avatar
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    My husband just brought home the Friday Sept.11th edition of the Wall St. Journal. Lo and behold there is an article about Raymond Carver. Seems they are advertising a new 'Collected Stories" by R.C. that is now out in hardback, all 1,019 pages. This new collection allows you, for the first time, to read and compare Lish-edited selections with the original manuscripts by Carver. According to the WSJ article, Lish altered a great deal of Carver's works, even changing character names. From this article, it does seem like readers were scammed or duped, but at least now one can compare the two.

    The title of the article is Before and After Stories
    A reputation shaped by an editor's hand, but a legacy formed by a writer's maturation.
    "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." W.H. Davies

  13. #13
    Lynne50 - Thanks for this info! My interest is piqued!

  14. #14
    "Call me Ishmael."
    - Herman Melville, Moby Dick


    It is so simple and genuine, and so effective in establishing personal narrative.

  15. #15
    I actually wrote a paper on Lish's editing on Carver last semester, and "scammed" too harsh of a word for it. They certainly weren't Carver's idea, and he had a hard time dealing with the edits. Here's an article from the New Yorker that actaully superimposes Lish's edits and additions over Beginners.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/2007...ineonly_carver

    It's funny, but my favorite line from Carver is from What We Talk About. "My friend Mel was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, so sometimes that gives him the right." Technically two sentences, but I love it. It has such punch, and it really establishes the narrator and Mel.

    While I like Hemmingway, I find his characters and situations tend to feel like exaggerations, while Carver's feel almost painfully real.

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