The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley (1959)

Little disturbances of man by Grace Paley - cover

From the original review of The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley in the Bridgeport Post Sun, April 1959:  A collection of short stories is relatively unusual as a literary debut, but in the case of Grace Paley the choice was by and large justified.

Virtually all of these ten stories center around love and they are written in a style that is an odd mixture of matter of factness, subdued sentimentality, and hyperbole.

Love, the author seems to suggest most of the time, is really a pretty funny business, and the best way to approach it is to appear hardboiled, while hiding a smile up one’s emotional sleeve.


A talent for the picaresque

This formula is apt to be successful with literary maiden aunts, for most everyone else it quickly becomes a bore. Miss Paley, has, however, managed to remain entertaining, and she has a decided talent for the picaresque, reminiscent of the great masters of the English humorous novel from Daniel Defoe to Joyce Cary.

Unfortunately, some good beginnings soon degenerate into cloying pathos, and less than tasteful realism (a case in point is the story “An Interest in Life,” in which the wife’s reflections on her husband acquire the embarrassing fears of a schoolboy’s erotica).

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The author is at her best in the first two stories. In “Good-bye and Good luck” she deals with the career into respectability of an actor’s mistress, who finally persuades her lover to marry her. Here Miss Paley shows a good ear for dialogue and for the patois known as “New Yorkese.”

In “A Woman, Young and Old,” she deals gently with the maturity of a moon-sick teenager, but cannot resist telling the tale end in a farce, which is perhaps just as well.

What marks these stories perhaps most of all as a preliminary effort is the metaphor that never quite comes off, e.g., “he cartwheeled eastward into the source of night” or “like a black and white barred king in Alcatraz, my heart lit up in stripes.”

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Little disturbances of man by Grace Paley - cover

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