Thursday, August 23, 2007


Sad news for lovers of the short story (like me): Grace Paley has passed away.

In her life, she published three short volumes; 45 stories is the entirety of her fictional output. All of them are available in a single collected edition.

This is the opening to a story called "Living," which runs only three pages in the collection. That makes it, what, 800 words?

"Two weeks before Christmas, Ellen called me and said, 'Faith, I'm dying." That week, I was dying, too.

"After we talked, I felt worse. I left the kids alone and ran down to the corner for a quick sip among living creatures. But Julie's and all the other bars were full of men and women gulping a hot whiskey before hustling off to make love.

"People require strengthening before the acts of life."

There are some wonderful things going on in those three, brief paragraphs. The first two sentences are really effective hook. Who can stop reading after they discover the possibility of two immanent deaths? And there's the cynical eye of the narrator in the second paragraph, assuming that as she sits dying in a local bar, around her are only couples preparing for romance. The multiple meanings in the third paragraph—the humor of it, the unintentional confession—are a nice touch, too.

(I also like that a woman named Grace named her narrator Faith.)

Merely 45 stories. We should spend the next month reading them over and over, don't you think?

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