Grace Paley

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A Conversation with My Father

Paley, Grace

Last Updated: Jun-25-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


This is a story about storytelling. The narrator--a writer--and her aged, ill father are discussing the narrator's style of story writing. The father wants her to write a story that is simple, "Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next." The writer doesn't like telling stories that way because "it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life."

Because she wants to please her father, the writer narrates a one-paragraph tale about a woman and her teenage son, a drug addict. But this is not what the father had in mind at all. "You misunderstood me on purpose . . . You left everything out." The father asks the writer questions, attempting to fill in details of the story that he believes are important. The writer agrees to tell the story again.

The second version is longer, complicated, unlikely, and, like the first version, has an unhappy conclusion, ending, "The End." The father is discouraged and saddened by this version. How could his daughter, the writer, leave the mother in the story in such an abandoned state? As they discuss the ending the father becomes exasperated with his daughter's bantering: "Tragedy! . . . When will you look it in the face?"

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