That woman lives across the street. She’s my knowledge and my invention.
I’m sorry for her. I’m not going to leave her there in that house crying.
(Actually neither would Life, which unlike me has no pity).
Grace Paley (“A Conversation with My Father,” Changes 167)
In “A Conversation with My Father,” Grace Paley exposes the principles of her art in which imitation and invention, realism and fantasy are closely intertwined. Quite significantly, in her foreword to the collection Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, she asserts that “[e]veryone in this book is imagined into life except the father” (my emphasis). Far from merely emphasizing the authenticity of the father figure in the collection, she thus indirectly claims and recalls that fiction is not so much an imitation of life as a performative means of giving life. Indeed, in Paley’s short stories, the metatextual comments on the art of writing do not alienate fiction from reality but on the contrary contribute to a revelation of the...