“Faith in a Tree,” as the title suggests, is about a woman named Faith, the protagonist of many a Paley story, sitting in a tree. It is a Saturday afternoon, and Faith has brought her two young sons, Richard and Tonto, to their New York neighborhood park to play and pass the time, among other parents and children and passersby doing the same.
Unlike those around her, however, Faith feels subtly trapped in her life as a single mother; she senses an unidentifiable longing, both carnal and intellectual, to make a more meaningful connection with the world. Bored with the mundane pretensions of the park’s social scene, she withdraws, retreats into herself, and climbs into a sycamore to establish the distance and detachment she needs. From her post, she muses flippantly on the scene below her and its position in the universe—“What a place in democratic time!”
She answers the queries of casual acquaintances passionately, but her cryptic answers are enigmatic and senseless; she describes and lampoons the other mothers, such as the self-righteous Mrs. Junius Finn, who “always is more in charge of word meanings than I am” and “is especially in charge of Good and Bad.” She responds to the various stimuli of passersby, such as a pair of men listening to Bach on a transistor radio; she alternately ignores and wrangles with her clever and disapproving older son, Richard; she jumps down from the tree for some competitive flirtation with a likable and considerate man named Phillip Mazzano. She later considers climbing back up for oxygen when another woman seems to be prevailing in the contest for his attention....
(The entire section is 670 words.)