I read most of the stories in Grace Paley’s collection, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, while I was in the hospital. I’d been confined last week, IV and all, and it made for hard going sometimes because the pain had the page seemingly reverberate before my eyes. Also, the needle and tubes attached to my hands made for hard marginalia and Moleskine-scribbling. Bah. But that’s that. I’m back, and I’ve got things to say about this book, salvaged from my scratchy handwriting on little Post-its.
[A backgrounder: So. I decided to buy me some Grace Paley because I’d read her short story, “Love,” which was anthologized in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, by Jeffrey Eugenides (which reminds me: this book really needs to be bumped off my Currently Reading stack.) It was a very short piece, and a little stylistic, and it had me going What just happened there?—but I obviously liked it enough, no? I love it when that happens (though it hurts my pocket, haha)–one story spurring me to get more of the author (same happened with Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, and baby pandas know who else).]
- Grace Paley’s stories are quirky, a little odd—the way she manipulates the language is a little out there, and I will always be fond of the puzzlement that comes over me when I’m reading her—especially her shorter work (two to four pages). These in particular had the feel of parables, surreal ones. Short but they manage to be meandering. Of course, that language of hers, her skewed worldview (haha), injects the stories with more than those few pages. It gets addictive–I admit to thumbing through the collection looking for those shorter shorts to read first. And since these stories are so short, but so full of depth and quirk and lots of other goodies, they entice you into dedicating pages and pages of close reading. So that’s an idea: when I teach a fiction class, I’ll demand my students to write a 15-page report on one 3-page story. Evil laughter!
- That said, I’ll probably be doing some Short Story Spotlights on Paley’s work–I can’t look at them collectively and do justice to them, but I can try with a per-story basis. I can try. Especially for her longer stories (uh, normal-sized stories?) I mean, for the title story, I wrote: “Baffling. I mean, yes, it was great, and it gets more so the more time spent away from it–but, well, it was very baffling. Baffling. Which is not to say I didn’t like it.”
- After a couple of stories (because there are seventeen stories in this collection), Paley gets exhausting. I suspect that although I am charmed and in awe of her work, I’m not fangirl-y about it (and I thought I would). She’s amazing, she has her moments–but sometimes, she’s just so odd, haha.
- And that’s the most sense I can make of those Post-its, haha. Fail. Anyhoo, Charles Baxter, in his essay “Maps and Legends of Hell: Notes on Melodrama” (from Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction) talks about Paley’s collection way better than I ever will, haha. So that’s another reason to get Baxter: I have baffled you so much, you’re dying for some clarity and closure.
I’ll definitely read more of her—not just because I have two more collections of hers waiting for me in my bookshelves.
Also, I’ve decided to make it a personal goal to read at least three short stories a day. Some people read the same number of poems a day, so why not short fiction? It’ll help me wade through the short story collections and anthologies that belong to that Currently Reading stack. I’ve read four now today–from four different books, haha. So the plan looks good. Anyhoo. Yay Reading.
PS — Apparently, there’s a movie! I want to watch that, darn it.