In “Goodbye and Goodluck”, Grace Paley discusses a young girl who is so awestruck by the theatre, she takes a first job there and falls for a famous actor who is already married. Her long term relationship with him leads her into a lifestyle that is nontraditional. What’s fun about this story is how clearly the character states her contentment and enjoyment of a life which others find scandalous; the character Rose doesn’t cave to societal expectations.
Like several other stories, the character Rose betrays a determination to get what she wants that transcends societal norms, class, and religion. A second character in this collection, Virginia, also has a primarily sexual relationship with the hero of the story, “The Contest”. For her, the deciding factor in whether they continue to live together occurs when the narrator, Fred, avoids taking a job. They remain friends, especially since Virginia wants to win a prize and she has connections, Fred’s writing ability, her mother’s language skills and she steadfastly goes forward, while Fred ponders the meaning of her appearance in his life.
Grace Paley’s sense of humor comes out in these stories in a subtle fashion. Hidden behind the story of “The Contest” is the question, did this woman make a fool out of me? In “An Interest in Life”, the tables are turned. The story starts out with the penultimate insults of married life, the personal gift of an item that is impersonal and probably a statement of how the husband views the wife he is about to desert, a broom.
One of her best stories for capturing an oddball character is “Floating Truth”. The narrator is a young woman looking for her first job when her only skills are typing. To get a job, she meets up with a man living in his car that she hires to write her resume. The opening lines, “Where are you Lionel? In the do-funny?” establishes a street tone to the story. Some of the funny lines in the story come about as a result of the job search like, “I didn’t know I was paying him by the hour.” The resume Eddie provides is a hoot, and provides a great contrast to the story title provided by Eddie when he tells her truth floats at the right level.
One of the heart warming and heart tearing moments in the collection come in the story “A Subject of Childhood” when a confrontation occurs between a single mother and her boyfriend over the behavior of her two children. “No doubt about it, Faith, you’ve done a rotten job,” says he. She repeats his insult several time as if astounded and each time, he reiterates his claim. Her response is not spoken, “For I have raised these kids, one hand typing behind my back to earn a living. I have raised them alone without a father…” The end result is almost expected because Grace Paley then turns the story on its head by making it a statement about what love really is.
Some of the techniques she uses in writing that provide humor as well as short-hand insight include:
- Exaggeration in a character’s thoughts i.e. “The list when complete could have brought tears to the eye of God if He had a minute.
- Details of an incident that renders it specific, unique, even if emotionally charged i.e. “I bought real butter for the holiday and its rancid, I cried into the secretary’s half-hearted ear.”
- Odd juxtaposition i.e. “Under the narrow sky of God’s great wisdom, she wore a strawberry-blond wig
- Fun use of naming i.e. “You certainly observed her, said Pallid. I have a functioning retina, said Livid.”