Sunday, September 02, 2007

Grace Paley


I was saddened by the death of Grace Paley last week, which I first read about on a Susan Hill's blog, and not in a newspaper. Paley's greatness as a short story writer is clearly yet to be fully acknowledged - or maybe it's the continuing British misapprehension that short stories can never be great - but great she most certainly was. Linguistically tough and inventive yet poetic, political yet lyrical, her stories give voice to a multitude of American immigrant experiences, clear eyed about pain and yet singing with optimism, a combination brilliantly captured in the Sally Ducksbury paintings on those eighties Virago covers above. It was Paley who taught me about the true meaning of Voice in fiction, and she was one of my greatest inspirations as a short-story writer. Perhaps my favourite of her stories is A Conversation with My Father in which her father, on his death-bed, chides her for not writing good old fashioned linear stories like de Maupassant or Chekhov. Ever obliging and, like the real-life Paley open to every possibilty, the daughter in the story tries, but not without commenting on

'..the absolute line between two points which I've always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.'
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