‘Gloomy Tune’ by Grace Paley

Paley, Grace 1962

Gloomy Tune by Grace Paley, 1962

The magic trick:

Tremendous freedom of voice

There is something amazingly free about the language in this story. I don’t know if you call that bravery, some kind of a writer’s courage. Something like that. It’s just remarkable to read Grace Paley. You feel like she’s just churning out the words off the top of her head, talking directly to you. It’s like a freestyle rapper who never makes a single mistake.

I didn’t even mention the remarkable way this story sums up the mess of contradictions inherent to the urban poor experience. The way it portrays the endless cycles poverty and violence amidst systems that either don’t even try to help the victims or fail miserably in the attempt.

But the voice is just so powerful in this story. I had to focus on that aspect above all else. And that’s quite a trick on Paley’s part.

The selection:

So he hollered, You better not say my mother’s name, you hear me, Chuchi stinking Gomez. Your whole family’s a fuckn bitches starting with your father and mother and Eddie and Ramon and Lilli and all the way the whole bunch and your gramma too.

Then he picked up a board with two nails in it and clonked Chuchi on the shoulder.

That isn’t such a bloody place, but with the oil and blood and all, if you got a little vinegar, you could of pickled Chuchi.

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