Monday, September 10, 2007

Reader's Diary #288- Grace Paley: A Conversation With My Father

Short Story Monday

(The bulk of this post will also appear on A Curious Singularity tomorrow. A Curious Singularity is a short story blog, featuring multiple bloggers posting about a single short story per month. It's a great idea and I was very excited to be asked to participate.)

For those of us into labels, Grace Paley's "A Conversation With My Father" could probably be described as metafiction. It tells the story of a narrator, presumably Paley herself, visiting her elderly father who "offers last-minute advice and makes a request."

The request? That she write a simple story for a change, one with recognizable characters.

Of course this set up immediately makes us, the readers, contemplate the story at hand. While the narrator attempts, perhaps half-heartedly at first, to come up with a tale to appease her dad, comparisons to the frame story are inevitable. (Interestingly, the narrator's tale revolves around a son and his mother instead of a daughter and her father.)

I think a lot of the heart of the story revolves around optimism versus pessimism. After telling her father a quick, six-line story, the father rebukes the daughter for her brevity and she gives it a second shot, working in more details. I suspect the father simply wanted to connect to and accept the tragedy- a nearly impossible task when one doesn't get to know the characters at least a little.

Yet after the father declares it a tragedy, the narrator once more edits her piece. This time, instead of ending on a tragic note, she takes the story farther down the line and redeems the protagonist. It must be a dilemma for any writer to decide where to end a story, just as where to begin it (as we all know, there are no such constructs in real life).

The father, however, balks at this addition and demands that she accept that tragedy exists, no matter how far you skip ahead to find the next positive turn.

One is left to wonder if this was the father's lesson on writing as much as it was about his present circumstance.

This was a beautifully written, thought-provoking piece and I suspect every reader will take away something different.

*Also check out Rob's SSM post about Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Gentleman From Cracow" and Raidergirl's post about Stephen King's "The Man In The Black Suit" from Everything's Eventual.

(I'm again reminding my fellow bloggers that if you, too, write a short story post, please consider submitting the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November. This month's carnival will be hosted by Book Nut. Her theme is classics. If you've written a post about classic literature, or would like to, consider submitting your post link to her: mmfraf [at] sbcglobal [dot] net before September 14th.)


Rob Hardy said...

My story is a favorite (or favourite) by the American Nobel laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer.

John Mutford said...

Thanks Rob and Raidergirl!

Allison said...

That sounds like a very interesting read. So true how hard it is to start a story, and then how to end it. I'm the worst with endings, I have yet to write one I am completely smitten with.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That's a really fascinating premise for a short story - very postmodern in its approach.

I've not actually heard of Grace Paley before, but that probably say more about me than it does about her.

Heather said...

I posted briefly today about the Paley story. Your post is excellent. Next week I'll be participating with a story I read by Charles Dickens.


John Mutford said...

Allison: I'd love to read one of your stories, ending or not!

Barbara: I hadn't heard of her before either, we all have to start somewhere. Did you click on the link to the story?

Heather: Thanks! Looking forward to the Charles Dickens post, too!