I am reading a memoir (My Lobotomy, by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming), and it starts like this:
My name is Howard Dully. I am a bus driver. I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I'm into doo-wop music, travel, and photography.
I am also a survivor. In 1960, when I was 12 years old, I was given a transorbital, or ‘ice pick’ lobotomy. My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of the American lobotomy, told me he was going to do some ‘tests.’ It took ten minutes and cost two hundred dollars.
The surgery damaged me in many ways. But it didn't "fix" me or turn me into a robot. So my family put me in an institution.
I spent the next forty years in and out of insane asylums, jails, and halfway houses. I was homeless, alcoholic, and drug-addicted. I was lost.
So... this is a memoir, not fiction, but it's still story. (Can't you imagine this as a first-person novel opening?) So... what do you think about starting right in on it, stating the conflict right up front, and here even the whole story is previewed ("the next forty years").
Now do you like this? Does it make you want to read more? Or do you feel more like you don't need to read more, because the whole story is right there-- there's no suspense?
In what case would you start a story so suddenly? What sort of story or character would elicit that sort of opening?
I think one thing we should all realize is-- there isn't a one-size-fits-all opening. It's often a good idea to "start right before something happens" or "start in the action" (and it's seldom a good idea to start with an unattributed line of dialogue :). But the opening has to fit the story. And so the question is, does the opening fit your story?
And with an opening like this, what sort of story would it be good for? Why would you make the decision to open with a comprehensive summary?
One danger I see is that the reader won't hang on for the first few pre-lobotomy chapters, which are essential (because we need to know why his parents even considered the surgery, what was "wrong" with him). But I notice that he says, "When I was 12," and that actually creates some anticipation/dread as he narrates in the first chapters his childhood. And knowing what is to come, we can hear about his misbehavior and his trauma (his mother dies when he's five, and he's never told anything but that she's gone away and won't return) and feel even greater dread-- that this isn't one of those stories where some wonderful teacher realizes that this is a troubled boy who needs some extra help, that it won't end up happily. We know-- he's going to get a lobotomy, and he's going to spend most of his life in institutions. (But we know there's eventually a happy ending too-- is that what keeps us slogging through the misery?)
That is, the author's decision to tell all in summary makes the details of his childhood more meaningful-- it's not just a bad kid, it's a kid who is going to be grossly mistreated. It's not just another wicked stepmother, it's a stepmother who has him lobotomized. It's not just a misspent youth, it's going to be a wasted life.
An interesting choice, anyway, and so far, it works to draw me in. (And next time I grump about how we treat kids with kid gloves these days, protect them too much, I need to remember this story! This is actually the era I remember-- he's 8 years older than I am-- as free and liberated, with parents benignly letting kids be kids without overprotecting or diagnosing them... yeah, and kids we now would recognize as having ADD or learning disabilities were just considered "bad" then, and expelled or sentenced or... well, I guess lobotomized.)