Friday, February 28, 2014
February 28, 2014: Short Shorts: Grace Paley
[To commemorate the end of our shortest month—my younger son recently asked me, “Why does February only get 28 days?!”—a series on five great American stories that are as short as they are powerful. Add your favorites in comments!]
On a story that just works, and then some.
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve read much Grace Paley yet; but she’s on the short list of folks into whose works I want and need to read more, and the main reason is my sense that she was as good as anybody’s ever been at creating concise and perfect short stories. Moreover, she did so over a nearly fifty-year period, from her 1959 debut through the years before her 2007 death; her fiction and life thus seem to portray and embody numerous crucial historical and social changes over that era, perhaps especially in relationship to women’s lives and experiences. All of those elements are encapulsated in a wonderful short short story from her 1974 collection Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, “Wants.” One last time, check it out, and come back and share your thoughts if you would!
Welcome back! There’s a lot to say about “Wants,” including a couple of lines that just plain took my breath away the first time I read it (perhaps especially “I want, for instance, to be a different person”). But I think my favorite thing about the story is its use of juxtaposition—of two seemingly unconnected settings and scenarios (the narrator’s encounter with her ex-husband and the transaction at the library), of past and present, of the intimate (marriage and divorce) and the global (the war), of the ex’s voice and version of things and the narrator’s, of mild humor and cutting pain. In the span of less than two pages, Paley moves us so expertly through so much, and yet still has the ability to surprise us with the simplicity and power of her final two paragraphs. That, my friends, is a classic short short story worthy of the designation.
So what do you think? This paragraph for rent!
February Recap this weekend,
BenPS. Thoughts on this story, or others you’d share?