Form and Content
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, which contains seventeen stories that originally appeared in The Atlantic, Esquire, and other magazines, is the second of Grace Paley’s highly regarded collections of stories. The Little Disturbances of Man, with eleven stories, appeared in 1959, and her third collection, Later the Same Day, containing seventeen stories, appeared in 1985. It is not a large corpus, and it has not generated extensive formal commentary and criticism. Yet it is a body of work loved and respected by many readers, especially women, who hear in Paley a familiar and long-silent voice, and other writers, who know that she is a consummate master of her craft who constantly experiments with the basic nature of narrative structure.
A number of stories in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute are so short that they seem carefully crafted situations symbolic of the circumstances of women. “Wants,” a three-page piece in which a woman meets her former husband at the library when she returns books she has had checked out for eight years, effectively expresses a woman’s basic desire to be the kind of person who returns books in two weeks, stays married to the same person forever, and addresses the Board of Estimate on the troubles of urban centers. In “Living,” a woman calls a friend to tell her she is dying. Yet the friend, a character named Faith who plays a role in a number of Paley stories, says that she is dying too, for her menstrual bleeding will not stop; the story is a poignant but restrained...
(The entire section is 646 words.)