Grace Paley's "A Conversation with My Father" was originally published in the New American Review in 1972. It was subsequently included in Paley's second collection of short stories, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, published in 1974. On one level, the story is about women's relationships with then-fathers and sons. Paley recounts a visit between a middle-aged woman and her elderly, bedridden father, who suffers from heart disease. The father reproaches his daughter, a writer, for not constructing straightforward narratives. He encourages her to emulate the nineteenth-century writers Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant, who wrote sparsely realistic tragedies. The daughter attempts to do so, telling him a story about some neighbors, a drug-addicted mother and son. She does not write a tragic ending, but ultimately both mother and son overcome their addictions. Her father rejects her ending, stating that she is unable to face tragedy in life and in fiction. On another level, the story is about storytelling. Within the larger story of the father and daughter, Paley includes two versions of another story, the story about the drug-addicted family. The presence of two stories, the portrayal of a writer writing a story, and the conversation about fiction between the narrator and her father make "A Conversation with My Father" a metafictional work, a story about stories and story-writing.
One of Paley's most critically acclaimed stories, "A Conversation with My Father" exemplifies Paley's efforts to combine realism with experimentation. The similarities between Paley and her protagonist highlight the story's self-reflexive commentary on the author's own narrative techniques. A further connection between Paley's own life and writing and her fiction is found in the disclaimer included m the beginning of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: "Everyone in this book is imagined into life except the father. No matter what story he has to live in, he's my father, I. Goodside, M.D., artist, and storyteller.—G. P." "A Conversation with My Father" not only deals with the possibilities of fiction, but it also explains Paley's own fictional processes and aims.
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