‘Friends’ by Grace Paley

Grace Paley’s stories should be in the birthing pack for new mothers, along with the muslins and nappy wrap. No one else is as a good at the way women talk to each other, especially in the mothering-places like the playground and the park. Her women are difficult, funny, fantastically diverse, frank and above all resilient, making the best of some hilariously bad jobs. The talk seems to go on through the stories, one to the next, in a never-ending stream, but I’ve picked ‘Friends’ because its ending – “I was right to invent for my friends and our children a report on these private deaths and the condition of our lifelong attachments” – has become a sentence that lives in my head, like Harriet’s eating or Mansfield’s budding girl.

First published in The New Yorker, June 1979. Collected in Later the Same Day (1985) and the Collected Stories (FSG, 1994/Virago Modern Classics, 2018)

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