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The Little Disturbances of Man : Stories of…

The Little Disturbances of Man : Stories of Women and Men at Love (1959)

by Grace Paley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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439736,293 (3.76)36

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Many of these stories were written more than fifty years ago, yet their humor, humanity and life still literally leap off the pages to make you chuckle, wince and empathize with the various characters that populate them. And the collection's subtitle is particularly apropo - "Stories of Women and Men at Love." Not "in" love, you should note, but "at" love. Because, after reading these sharply hewn tales, you begin to suspect that Grace Paley does not put all that much stock in romance, or the kind of love that the women and men here are engaged in. The title itself, THE LITTLE DISTURBANCES OF MAN, might even indicate that man is not quite so important as he'd like to think. Indeed, that subtitle again: note that "women" come first.

Before I forget to say it: I loved these little stories. Grace Paley was not a prolific writer, producing only a few collections of stories. But she was good, damn good. She spent much of her life engaged as a political activist, marching, protesting and demonstrating. Married a couple times, with a couple of kids, writing was something she worked into the creases of her active and busy life. Perhaps the proof of this can be found here in "Two Sad Stories from a Long and Happy Life."
The first, "1. The Used-Boy Raisers," introduces us to Faith, along with her current husband, 'Pallid,' and her ex-husband, 'Livid.' Who are both hanging out in her kitchen complaining about the food, but the husbands seem to get along, to understand each other - and their names fit well. Livid needles her about another "old boyfriend Clifford," who shows up int the second sad story, "2. A Subject of Childhood." Clifford comes across as a self-absorbed creep, who she throws out after he accuses her of doing "a rotten job" as a mother, "lousy," in fact. She beans him with an ashtray, then considers -

"For I have raised these kids, with one hand typing behind my back to earn a living. I have raised them all alone without a father ..."

Reading these lines, I strongly suspected, Yup. This is how Grace Paley lived her life. Raising her two kids alone, writing when she had to, to make a living. In the same story, the boyfriend gone, the kids sleeping, she continues -

"I organized comfort in the armchair, poured the coffee black into a white mug that said MAMA, tapped cigarette ash into a ceramic hand - hollowed by Richard. I looked into the square bright window of daylight to ask myself the sapping question: What is man that woman lies down to adore him?"

What is man indeed? In another story he might be "The Pale Pink Roast." In another a washed-up Yiddish actor who likes to keep a mistress on the side. In another, Charles C. Charley, an air conditioning guy in his late thirties who gets involved with a teenager ("An Irrevocable Diameter"), or a sleazy Army corporal who romances a thirteen year-old at the same time he's dating her aunt ("A Woman, Young and Old"). Bottom line: men are mostly cads and opportunists. And Grace Paley is a very discerning and FUNNY writer. Philip Roth called these stories "splendidly comic and unladylike." Bingo!

Grace Paley, I suspect, enjoyed the men in her life - until she didn't. And she was not above poking gentle fun at herself either. That's a great trait in a writer. I'll say it again. I loved these stories. Thank you, Ms. Paley, and R.I.P.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | May 18, 2017 |
The only reason I didn’t give up on this collection halfway through the first story is because I had to do a joint presentation on the author as part of my MA degree.

Checking other reviews, I see I’m of a minority who can’t stand these type of stories. Here and there my interest was caught, hence my rating it two stars instead of one, but on the whole I was either bored, irritated, or both.

Too many characters, not enough plot. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Feb 27, 2017 |
I had never heard of Paley when I picked up this book and after reading the first story, I was astounded I hadn't. The quality of her writing is incredible with rich juxtapositions of words that create perfect images. Her style of cold observation never takes away from the deep emotion and turmoil.
Despite the day-to-day and seemingly simple writing, I found her stories very difficult to read - the layers of meaning carefully intertwined, each word weighed and important.
This is a real gem. ( )
1 vote Cecilturtle | Mar 8, 2015 |
I had never read any of Grace Paley's work and one of my favourite authors wrote very positively about her, so I picked up this volume to try her out. I found that I didn't like her at all. I read only two stories and gave up. I'm sure there's quality in her work - better people than me have made very different judgments to me - but I'm too close to the end of my life to spend time reading this kind of writing. ( )
1 vote oldblack | Nov 27, 2014 |
I found this to be an uneven set of short stories. Some were related, i.e., sequential. I couldn't really follow them all very well - language use was odd at times. ( )
  LisaMorr | Jan 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grace Paleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byatt, A SIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
'My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn't right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly..."Thanks, chum," I said...It was a mean present to give a woman you planned on never seeing again.' No one writes about love like Grace Paley. These unforgettable stories about women and men in the thick of life and the love-hate relationships between them are shrewd, funny, full of feeling. In Grace Paley's special world anything can happen, and it usually does to the loving couples, bickering couples, deserted wives and discarded husbands who inhabit these pages. But Grace Paley's lovers stare life full in the face. Whatever befalls them, the underlying gaiety of life and the sheer ludicrousness of what they get themselves into is always there: they emerge battered-but triumphant. These superb stories wonderfully exhibit Grace Paley's splendid and unique vision of life, the richness of her imagination, her wicked wit. First published in 1959, this is the book which established her reputation as a master of the short story, one of the most brilliant and original writers of fiction in America today.

Contents: Goodbye and good luck / A woman, young and old / The pale pink roast / The loudest voice / The contest / An interest in life / An irrevocable diameter / Two short sad stories from a long and happy life : 1. The used-boy raisers 2. A subject of childhood / In time which made a monkey of us all / The floating truth.
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Records one woman's response to the love-hate relationships, inhibitions and selfconcerns of men and women.

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