Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Paley’s lively seriocomic style has been frequently praised for its blending of sardonic wit and spare description, which somehow intimates the gap that she experiences “between knowing and telling.”

The three settings noted earlier—Faith’s apartment, the retirement home, and the beach of her childhood—divide the narrative into the spheres of the intimate relationship between lovers, the argumentative tension between parents and daughter, and the playful communication between mother and children. In all of them, the prose scarcely focuses on physical appearance (except telling details such as the boil on Faith’s wrist). Snapshot impressions punctuate the dialogue. Saturated with diseased or pain-afflicted bodies, the text is largely made up of disembodied voices (no quotation marks are used, and words are rarely attributed to their speakers) whose diverse tones—mocking, derisive, ambiguous, frank, vulgar, urbane, sentimental—more than compensate for the sparseness of “realistic” details to convey the abundant zest or élan of her characters in confronting the cruel indifference and betrayals of life.

The narrative is chiefly composed of dialogue interspersed with brief summaries. The rapid and sometimes discontinuous exchanges between the characters suffice to disclose their temperaments and motivations. When the father says about Faith’s delinquent husband, “Young. Young is just not old. What’s to argue? What you...

(The entire section is 446 words.)