I finished Paley’s Later the Same Day last week. I was originally going to simply post what I’d written down in my journal that day about it, but upon re-reading it I think it better that it stay safely where no one else should ever see it (at least until I’m dead and very famous and people are reading through my notebooks to get biographical details that influenced any number of my many masterworks of fiction… right). That said, I think I liked the book?
The experience reminded me in some ways of reading A Good Man is Hard to Find. Throughout the whole of it, I knew I was reading something good, even if I couldn’t always tell why (or, occasionally, that) it was good. I liked some of the stories more than others. I think a few of them fell on the opaque side of the post-Carver opaque–austere stories line, and it helped me to think of a few of them especially as narrative prose-poems rather than stories (even though I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense).
A part of the problem may very well have been whiplash on my part: going from the very “European” Brothers Ashkenazi novel to the very “American” short story collection might have been a bit much in terms of transition. I’m almost done with Babel’s Odessa Stories and that has felt a like a comfy median between them.
But to return to the Paley explicitly, a few brief observations of the book and my reading of it (semi-edited from my notes on it):
- I’m planning on getting a physical version of the ebook I “acquired”, which is the Collected Stories instead, though, because I don’t like the edition from the library. Too many wasted title pages. I hate that, especially when so many of the stories are so short).
- I wish I would have realized sooner that they’re connected stories, that (I believe) Faith = Grace so far as an artistic avatar, and had paid more attention to the characters as they floated around the collection
- The third-to-last story I thought was very important but made me very sad.
- Many of the others I liked well enough. I think her short-shorts are probably her best/most accessible, but then, many of the longer ones are good, too.
The reason I chose this particular collection (aside from it being the one my library system had), was for her short-short story, “Mother,” which was recommended during my conversation with this professor dude I’m about to hang out with for the next few years (we may not actually hang out). I read the story right after he recommended it, then again when I got the book from the library the first time, then again when I read it in the context of the collection (I checked the book out twice, because the first time I checked it out was right after I’d gotten *Kavalier and Clay, which I unapologetically savored and took my time reading). It’s a fucking impressive story, though I am not quite as in love with it as Askold was (yet?). Still, the point is illustrative:
I think this collection, like the O’Connor stories, isn’t one I’m going to remember particularly fondly as a first-read, but rather one that I’ll return to on an as-needed basis. There’s some cool turns in there, and as someone interested in writing both socially aware (though this point, w/r/t Paley’s work, I want to talk to someone about who’s smarter than me, because I do protest, somewhat) and, we’ll say, “culturally Jewish” stories and books, Paley is certainly an attractive model. And she’s a fucking good writer, when she’s not trying too hard to live inside the “American Short Story” genre (this is probably not a fair accusation, but I stand by my bad taste for now).
Some books are like that I guess. You can recognize good work, but also recognize that it’s not exactly gelling with you, at least right now. It’s how I felt about Catch-22, incidentally. I sort of get why people love it so much, but I also think I would have been much more into it had I read it in high school. For Paley, well, maybe I’ll get it a little more when I’m older, perhaps. Or maybe I just needed a little more context in which to read her?
In any case, it’s always better to have read (or at least read a part of) than read-not. Don’t you think?