Grace Paley on How to Tell a Story
Find the paragraph to
hold the poem steady
for six or eight pages...
don't let her lose the poem
in the telling of day by
day because the subject
is time the place is only
paper the story is still
a puzzle the teller
In one of my favorite stories, "A Conversation with My Father" (and you can riffle through Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and The Little Disturbances of Man and Later the Same Day to see which of the 45 is your favorite), Grace Paley tells us something, not only about life and death but about the nature of storytelling as well. The story of a father who wants his daughter to shape their family stories more elegantly and neatly (less harshly, less distressingly) and of the daughter who wants to please him, but cannot give up what she knows to be true, is carried along on classic Paley language: wisecracking, urban, tender, intense, and understated. At the end, the reader is turned, inevitably, to face his or her own family: How can one family live with so many different truths? And how does anyone ever know another person, least of all a mother or a father?
"Goodbye and Good Luck," which may possibly be my very favorite story of all time, is early and essential Paley. It is a story of love, and of mistakes and missteps that take years to correct themselves, and the story itself is, like the love affair, ardent, charming, wise, knowing. The story requires that the reader bear heartbreak, without ever renouncing either love or the world. I think that is what grace is, and I think that is what Grace means: Bear the world, without giving in, and love the people in it, without hesitation.
From "A Poem About Storytelling":
The artist comes next She waits for
the listeners too What if they're all
deafened by grief or in prison Then
there's no way out of it She will listen
It's her work She will be the listener
in the story of the stories
Amy Bloom is the author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out.