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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories (1974)

by Grace Paley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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605830,081 (3.79)38
In this collection of short stories, originally published in 1974, Grace Paley "makes the novel as a form seem virtually redundant" (Angela Carter, "London Review of Books"). Her stories here capture "the itch of the city, love between parents and children" and "the cutting edge of combat" (Lis Harris, "The New York Times Book Review"). In this collection of seventeen stories, she creates a "solid and vital fictional world, cross-referenced and dense with life" (Walter Clemons, "Newsweek").… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
I was just going to give this four stars to balance my GR quota but whatever. At least half of these are in the ten most affecting stories I've ever read. ( )
  brendanowicz | May 9, 2021 |
Well, I was surprised by this one. I love short stories. Somewhere, somehow I heard about Grace Paley. That she was a special teller of short stories. I obtained a copy of this collection with great expectations. The GR rating of 4 added to those expectations. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as expected. Yes, Grace Paley is a unique teller of short stories. Some of her stories are so short that they are over before you have gotten to know a character or what the story might be about. I simply couldn’t find much to enjoy. The one aspect of her stories I did like was the repeat appearance of the character Faith across multiple stories. Unfortunately, except for Faith, I didn't feel like I got to know anyone. When the writer is also an artist, the art can accentuate the story. But sometimes there is just the art, and it has nothing to do with the story. That is Grace Paley for me, at least in this collection. I can recognize the art for what it is. I can even appreciate the art to some degree. The art, however, did not help the stories. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
The only reason I didn’t give up on this collection halfway through the first tale 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. I did expect to like this collection more than the author’s first book of shorts – which I wasn’t impressed by – but turned out that this one was even less appealing.

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. I especially hate how, in about half the tales, there’re no quotation marks for dialogue.

Plots are virtually non-existent. Each story more or less revolves around people chatting about political matters, which is of no interest to me whatsoever. If it’s not political, it’s just commonplace gossip. In short, it comes across as the author’s way of expressing her opinions through lacklustre characters.

Speaking of characters, there are too many per story for it to be possible to feel any sympathy for any of them, never mind getting to know them. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Feb 27, 2017 |
Couldn't finish it. One of the most boring books I've ever tried to read... ( )
  CathCD | Jan 16, 2016 |
But he does not know where the money for all of life will come.

This book is a city and wears me out as such. Nowhere is there the opportunistic grace of Let the Great World Spin, easier on the eyes and less real to the senses if I think back on my three-and-a-half year stint in LA. The second day of reading this shock shock shock of too slow and you’ll miss it wit left me with a migraine, no less, and so I put this back and plunged into the lengthier things I’m more akin to. War and Peace has that, if nothing else, an else that includes real woman to an extent that eventually chased me back to finishing this one up. Single mother of Jewish extract in the city I may never have been, but women and men in close quarters and closer dialogue vary little over the years and circumstances, and if I could dig McElroy, I can do this.

”Mrs. Finn,” I scream in order to be heard, for she’s some distance away and doesn’t pay attention the way I do, “what’s so terrible about fresh. EVIL is bad. WICKED is bad. ROBBING, MURDER, and PUTTING HEROIN IN YOUR BLOOD is bad.”

Paley’s a proponent of the modern times and all its lack of unearned respect. I am as well, but not as much: whether due to the sprawl of wooded creek posing as my backyard or long hours spent with the biggest tomes I could drag down from shelves, I have no head for voices or liking for Angela Carter’s declaration of “…Paley’s work mak[ing] the novel as a form seem virtually redundant.” Sit me down in the busiest intersection of passing folk and not two minutes will pass before my hand is itching towards something to mull over. I do take pleasure in the potential for rapid communication, the interchange of diversity day in day out, the blood bone gristle of infrastructure melded with the brain nerve pulsepoint of people, I do, I do! I just need some great periods of silent introspection (little afforded by urban living) on a regular basis, else I get cranky.

He had once killed a farm boy made crazy by crowds in the city. The boy had run all day in terror round and round Central Park. People thought he was a runner because he wore an undershirt, but he had finally entered the park, and with a kitchen knife he had killed one baby and wounded two or three others. “Too many people,” he screamed when he killed.

Paley’s a planter of tinier seeds. In less couched terms, Paley doesn't fuck around, what with her style narrowing into the heart of things without the comfort of all enclosing barriers, making us multitask in paying attention and plying imagination at tenfold plus the pace of the usual prose (spoonfeeding us ideologies and cringing back from every accidental increase of force in expectation of the spit). She’d shake her head at me, speedy reader that I am, but I did realize the sloppiness of my first effort and subsequently went back for a more serious combing, so I’m hoping she wouldn’t be too put out.

”Well, you just have to let the story lie around till some agreement can be reached between you and the stubborn hero.”

I grinned in chagrin at that. To be fair, fiction’s usually extemporaneous in the details rather than the fibrous mess of –isms, and when the reverse is the case I’m all set for inevitable polemic, but if Paley has a cause, it’s a breed of Legion. I’d say she’d like Tumblr, but as there’s none of the grimier evidence of human contact in multifarious infinitude of a geography that likes to think itself logical, she might think it too facile. Say what you will about the ‘net and words words words, but no one’s been horrifically murdered in them yet. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Jun 21, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grace Paleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In this collection of short stories, originally published in 1974, Grace Paley "makes the novel as a form seem virtually redundant" (Angela Carter, "London Review of Books"). Her stories here capture "the itch of the city, love between parents and children" and "the cutting edge of combat" (Lis Harris, "The New York Times Book Review"). In this collection of seventeen stories, she creates a "solid and vital fictional world, cross-referenced and dense with life" (Walter Clemons, "Newsweek").

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This is the unmistakable voice of Grace Paley. In these superb stories, wry, sardonic, often brutally funny, she speaks with disconcerting honesty about people in and out of love, husbands and wives, parents and children, passing strangers. New York is the setting, but like Chekhov's Russia, it's a place we all know. Her characters inhabit a world of too little money, too many kids, of husbands gone off somewhere, probably for good. Survivors all, illusions gone, they face the vicissitudes of life with a mixture of cheerful optimism and rueful acceptance.

These unforgettable tragi-comedies have echoes of Dorothy Parker, but the style, wit and imaginative daring of vision are Grace Paley's own.

Contents: Wants -- Debts -- Distance -- Faith in the afternoon -- Gloomy tune -- Living -- Come on, ye sons of art -- Faith in a tree -- Samuel -- The burdened man -- Enormous changes at the last minute -- Politics -- Northeast playground -- The little girl -- A conversation with my father -- The immigrant story -- The long-distance runner
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