In Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, identity is a personal and a social issue in the struggle for a peaceful world. Most of the characters in this short-story collection are middle-aged women, such as Faith Darwin, who resembles, but is not intended to be, Paley’s alter ego; others are simply those about whom stories are told—the children who have died or suffered from neglect, poverty, drug abuse, and the Vietnam War.
The main characters in these stories act with defiance and hope. In “Enormous Changes at the Last Minute,” Alexandra is a middle-aged social worker who accidentally becomes pregnant through a liaison with Dennis, a cabdriver, poet, and commune member. Instead of joining the commune, Alexandra invites several of her pregnant clients to come live with her, a “precedent in social work which would not be followed or even mentioned in state journals for about five years.” In the story “Wants,” the woman narrator meets with her ex-husband, who criticizes her, telling her that she’ll “always want nothing.” In answer to herself and the reader, she recites the things she has wanted in her life, including ending the war before her children grew up. In “The Long-Distance Runner,” Faith Darwin takes a long run through her old neighborhood and ends up living with the black family who now occupies her childhood apartment. All three of these women examine themselves midway, finding, as Faith does,...
(The entire section is 486 words.)