The Mystery of Grace Paley’s Life and Art
Posted by: Keir Graff
On Slate, Jess Row has a nice appreciation of Grace Paley (“Enormous Changes in Very Small Spaces“):
Perhaps the most unresolved tension in Paley’s work lies between her unyielding political idealism (raised by proud and combative socialist parents, she always described herself as a “somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist”) and her acute, even overwhelming attraction to the perversities and self-contradictions of ordinary human life. Flannery O’Connor, referring to her own strict and radical Catholicism, wrote that “your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they are no substitute for seeing.” Like O’Connor’s, Paley’s politics seem to have sharpened her appreciation for the grotesque and grubby ugliness she encountered every day. She had a particularly acute eye for hypocrisy: Few writers have written as acidly about idealistic men practicing routine cruelty toward their wives and families. Yet – unlike O’Connor, needless to say – Paley worked for, and expected, the perfectibility of man, dedicating herself to global disarmament, ecological healing, the elimination of racism and poverty. How these two personalities – the keen-eyed and unforgiving observer, the rigid, unsubtle radical – coexisted in the same body is, to me, the mystery of her life, and her art.