A Stroke Of Good Fortune by Flannery O’Connor, 1949
The magic trick:
Choosing the right entry point
Every piece of writing everywhere throughout the history of time has forced every writer to ask at least once, “Where do I begin?” It’s an inevitable choice, and, especially in the short story form, it a question whose answer is utterly vital.
I don’t love “A Stroke Of Good Fortune.” It’s kind of the filler track after the killer run of hit singles that open the A Good Man Is Hard To Find collection. Nevertheless, I am impressed by its entry point.
I figure if I was writing a story about a woman who gets an odd prediction from a fortune teller and later figures out it means she is pregnant, I’d probably start with the fortune teller scene. It seems like a sexy opener. Kind of dramatic. Kind of exciting.
Ah, but this is why I’m an idiot blogger who writes about other people who actually write great short stories. O’Connor starts the story with our protagonist arriving home with a bag of beans she just bought at the grocery store. Doesn’t quite have the sex appeal of my fortune-teller opener, right? Well, that’s true. But it also puts the woman at the base of the stairwell, looking up, immediately establishing the story’s key ideas and symbols. This, perhaps, is why I am not a well-loved author of fiction. The story begins just as it should. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
Ruby came in the front door of the apartment building and lowered the paper sack with the four cans of number three beans in it onto the hall table. She was too tired to take her arms from around it or to straighten up and she hung there collapsed from the hips, her head balanced like a big florid vegetable at the top of the sack. She gazed with stony unrecognition at the face that confronted her in the dark yellow-spotted mirror over the table. Against her right cheek was a gritty collard leaf that had been stuck there half the way home. She gave it a vicious swipe with her arm and straightened up, muttering, “Collards, collards,” in a voice of sultry subdued wrath. Standing up straight, she was a short woman, shaped nearly like a funeral urn.