‘A Conversation With My Father’ by Grace Paley

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say I left art school because of Ian McEwan. I applied to do a Literature BA at UEA instead, and in my first class I was introduced to this Grace Paley story by a young lecturer called Rosemary Jackson. I fell in love with both of them. Paley was a generation older than McEwan, a New York Jew, a lifelong anarchist, activist, feminist, and her voice couldn’t have been more different from his: sassy and wise, sorrowful, exuberant. I read everything she’d written, and spent the next three decades regretting there wasn’t more. But as she said, “Art is too long and life is too short.” The enduring appeal of this story, and most of her stories, lies in its rejection of plot, the tidy tales her father enjoys. Paley’s fictional alter-ego wants to please him, but she despises plot – “the absolute line between two points” – because “it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”

First published in New American Review, 1972Collected in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, Virago, 1979 and Collected Stories, Virago, 1984

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