The nice thing about A Grace Paley Reader, aside from the reminder that now would be a good time to read Grace Paley, is that by bringing together a selection of her stories, nonfiction pieces, and poems, it illuminates the connections among them, along with the intertwinings of work and life ... It is remarkable that a voice so acrobatic and sly and playful still rings so true ... If today's newspapers seem not always up to the task of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, this book did the trick—that is to say, I found it both comforting and afflicting. And the longer I've had it with me, the more I find myself identifying with a title that at first had seemed awfully studious. A Grace Paley reader: I'm glad to be one.
If the Reader was intended as a memorial, published a decade after her death, it now seems more pressing—a necessary antidote to the current demoralization of the American left and the disorientation of what remains of the country’s center ... There are no easy conversions here, and while Paley has a stern understanding of her political enemies, she refuses to soften into acceptance. Instead she dwells on protracted acts: long, difficult conversations; long, painful vigils; many drenching nights and blazing days without obvious results. They are what the stories give us, fragmented into brief, vivid glimpses. Of the voices of mid-century American radicalism, few could ever make perseverance seem so vital.
The essays about her time in women’s collectives and protesting the American government’s warmongering are important artifacts and teach us much about a movement whose ideas and activism are resurging among young people now. The poems are nice but a bit sentimental. The stories are just themselves, which is a hard thing to describe ...There are many fictions of motherhood, and many leftist essays about socialism and the need to end war. There are also many women who deserve to be reclaimed from the obscurity in which so many great American post-war writers languish. There are many generous writers, and many who cared more for living and writing and their families than they cared for fame. But of all these Grace Paley is one of the very best, which A Grace Paley Reader knows.
Many readers are familiar with the work of Grace Paley — her writings have been a staple among the socially conscious for decades — and yet I find that her voice is an especially important one now. The issues of her time are the issues of our time … Paley’s writing shines light, and this light illuminates a blueprint for persistent resistance. Her stories portray flawed, loud, and resilient characters getting on with living. They are not careful, with themselves or with their loved ones, but they are tenacious … Again and again, Paley is available, imposing, interrupting, reaching toward the hustle of humanity, and reaching without need or judgment. She has something to offer in her writing that she knows is of value: a kind of truth.
With an introduction by George Saunders, the Reader includes stories as well as essays, talks, and poems. The book reminds us that Paley the short-story writer was also Paley the activist, the pamphleteer, the poet, the community organizer, and the committed leftist … A Grace Paley Reader helps to return the writer to her historical moment, to the specific conditions that shaped her life as an artist and activist … The concept of interdependence was both the foundation of Paley’s politics and the organizing principle of her art. No story illustrates this better than ‘Faith in a Tree’...An entire neighborhood—which is to say, an entire world—is contained in this park, the province of women and children.
Lucky us that a generous selection of her stories, essays and poems has been collected in the just-published A Grace Paley Reader ... Best and most memorable of Paley’s characters is Faith Asbury, who is so colorful that Paley couldn’t bear to confine her to a single story. A single mother of two strong-willed boys, she’s messy and conflicted, about men and kids and the many women in her life ...[George] Saunders gets it right when he observes that she’s both 'particularly attentive to things as they are and extraordinarily accepting of them.' Her essays and poems continually champion the importance of listening, and she listens well.
To reread Paley is to reexperience the activism and excitement of the 1960s, their energy and perhaps naive optimism; her essays quiver with indignation and faith. Many, even most, of the principled stands she takes may seem self-evident in hindsight but were disputed at the time she wrote about them, like her opposition to the Vietnam War, and even the bomb … For all the linguistic fireworks of their voices, some of Paley’s characters have a certain generic quality. One exception to this is her memorable alter ego, Faith Darwin, who appeared in each of her three collections and is usually taken to be autobiographical. A writer’s personal qualities always shine through her literary surrogates, and it’s Paley herself we love above all, the more so in that she doesn’t disguise herself very much, and we so admire the tough, funny, resigned, and philosophical woman we feel her to be.
...here is one of the great books of 2017 -- the Grace Paley Reader Bowen and Nora Paley envisioned to embody fully one of the greatest literary and political lives of her time. What George Saunders says in his introduction to the book (it is, alone, worth the price, as one era’s extravagantly admired 'writer’s writer' is enraptured by another from the immediately preceding era) is inarguable: 'In Paley, you hear America singing, yes, but also: bellyaching, kvetching, teasing, advocating, disarming, politicizing, explaining the states of their bodies, assessing friends, lovers and their children with both clinical distance and aching love.' It’s a 'universe' he says and it’s 'incapable of a dull sentence' ... [an] overdue and necessary book.
This notion of community, and commitment, pervades her writing, presented in all its brilliant and elusive glory in this omnibus ... As a writer, Paley stands outside the usual categories, blurring naturalism with postmodernism, straddling the old world and the new. The collection highlights that without belaboring the point ... Think of the pieces here as a series of scale models that together encapsulate Paley’s generous sensibility.