Pop quiz: first paragraphs

What do you think of these first paragraphs, collected from here and there? I doubt you’ll guess the authors, but see if you can guess where they come from. Answers at the bottom; don’t cheat.

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The landline was mewling again in the kitchen, obliging Pell Munnelly, woke now for good, to climb from the cozy rut of her bed and pad downstairs in bare feet. She skimmed her fingertips along the dulled gray-and-lilac grain of the walls, swatted each light switch she passed to feel less alone.

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

Somewhere near the end, she decided that the drinking was the problem. So we stopped cold, both of us, in the middle of February. One of those winters where the sky looms over the town like a gray roof that never changes. Old ice and blackened snow in the gutters. It was maybe a mistake.

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

Many years ago, after I retired from the bank, James brought a small terrier to our apartment in Paris. I told him I did not want it. I knew he was trying to keep me occupied, and it is a ridiculous thing, to have a dog. Maybe one day you rise from bed and say, “I would like to pick up five thousand pieces of shit.” Well, then, I have just the thing for you. And for a man to have a small dog—it makes you a fool.

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

It had been an ordinary day, to a point. I had a headache that wouldn’t let up, and there was a party I’d promised I’d go to—I’d said see you soon to the people at work. But after I unlocked my door and kicked off my shoes all I could think about was jumping into bed. Once I allowed myself to think that this was a reasonable idea, I felt released from the grip of the party; I realized that if I slept right through nobody would really care.

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

I was walking down High Street to the funeral home when I spotted Ed Hankey coming toward me. He said, “Jay,” then, “Guess who’s sick?,” then blinked and concluded, “Murray Cutler.”

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish. Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth of white hair and indignant far-left politics. The father was an important cardiologist, revered around the hospital but happily subservient at home, where he would listen to his wife’s strange tirades with an absent-minded smile. Fiona had her own little car and a pile of cashmere sweaters, but she wasn’t in a sorority, and her mother’s political activity was probably the reason. Not that she cared. Sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics—though she liked to play “The Four Insurgent Generals” on the phonograph, and sometimes also the “Internationale,” very loud, if there was a guest she thought she could make nervous. A curly-haired gloomy-looking foreigner was courting her—she said he was a Visigoth—and so were two or three quite respectable and uneasy young interns. She made fun of them all and of Grant as well. She would drolly repeat some of his small-town phrases. He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging in their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.

A. First graf of hot new novel  B. First graf of New Yorker short story  C. First graf of freshman comp in creative writing course

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You weren’t allowed to cheat, but I was. (And the three I think are worth pursuing are Meloy, Theroux, and Munro.)

B. Colin Barrett; New Yorker, 1/5/2015; B. Kevin CantyNew Yorker, 10/6/2014; B. Maile Meloy; New Yorker, 6/23/2014; B. Elizabeth McKenzie; New Yorker, 12/15/2014; B. Paul Theroux; New Yorker, 10/7/2013; B. Alice Munro; New Yorker, 10/21/2013

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Newtonville Books, Newton, MA

Town House Books & Cafe, St. Charles, IL

Broadway Books, Portland, OR

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