‘Conversation with My Father’ by Grace Paley

Ars poetica in the form of an argument, one I’ve often had with myself. “I would like you to write a simple story just once more,” says the narrator’s father from his hospital bed, “the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and write down what happened to them next.” And so she tries, and (according to her father) fails, due to jokes and a too firm commitment to the possibility of change. “Tragedy!” he shouts in the final lines, “When will you look it in the face?” (I sometimes walk around my house saying this to myself, but it makes me laugh so the narrator wins after all.)

Collected in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974

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