What is "A Conversation with My Father" about?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A Conversation with My Father” by American author Grace Paley (1922–2007) is a short story that was first published in the New American Review in 1972. It is a quasi-autobiographical, metafictional story in which a middle-aged female writer talks with her dying father about the craft of writing short stories.

In the story, the protagonist is conversing with her elderly father about her own writing. The father argues that she should be writing simple, classic stories like those of the great nineteenth-century masters of fiction. To please her father, the protagonist writes a short story in that mode based on events in the lives of their real neighbors, but the result is unsatisfactory. In this story within a story, there are a mother and son who have a codependent relationship centered on drug addiction.

Despite the simplicity of the story and the way it conforms to classic patterns of narration, the father finds it lacking because it does not fully humanize the characters and lacks descriptive depth. The daughter revises the story in response to her father's critique, and they have additional discussions about the craft of fiction and the specific story.

At the end, the frame is shown to be not about the craft of fiction but rather about the father and daughter obliquely thinking about their own story: that is, his impending death and how they both talk about and react to it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial