Living by Grace Paley, 1965
The magic trick:
Demonstrating a self-consciously selfish narrative voice
I have to admit I don’t know what to make of this one. It seems like a story in which the narrator begins selfishly and foolishly but by the end has learned a valuable lesson. Except that the narrator doesn’t learn the lesson. She feels just the same at the end that she did at the beginning. But it’s deeper than that. There is a sense that the narrator never needed to learn the lesson in the first place. There is a sense that she knew at the beginning that she was being selfish and still knows at the end. So, really, she isn’t being selfish. She’s being self-consciously selfish. It’s all just a defense mechanism against sadness and loss and fear. Confused yet? There’s a lot to think about here. And that’s quite a trick on Paley’s part.
He stopped all his tears. “Why thanks. Oh no. I have an uncle in Springfield. I’m going to him. I’ll have it O.K. It’s in the country. I have cousins there.”
“Well,” I said, relieved. “I just love you Billy. You’re the most wonderful boy. Ellen must be so proud of you.”
He stepped away and said, “She’s not anything of anything, Faith.” Then he went to Springfield. I don’t think I’ll see him again.
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