The key words in the titles of several of the stories in Later the Same Day are “telling,” “listening,” “hearing,” and “story,” for the nature of narrative talk is central to all of them. Paley’s central concern is the basic characteristics of story; specifically, the characteristics of oral narrative specifically associated with women. In “Listening,” at breakfast, Faith tells her husband Jack the two stories “Anxiety” and “Zagrowsky Tells,” stories that she neglected to tell him in the story “The Story Hearer.” Jack complains that these are stories about men and urges her to tell him the stories told by women about women. Although Faith says they are too private, many of Paley’s stories are indeed about the very private talk between women.
Paley’s concern with the nature of story moves many of her narratives into the realm of self-reflexive fiction or metafiction, for they are about reality as a language construct. Although her stories lack the kind of tight intentional patterning of the well-made short story since Poe, they are not “realistic” in the usual “slice-of-life” sense. Paley is too self-conscious a writer to be content with straightforward mimetic treatments of real people in the real world. As a result of Paley’s refusal to build her stories around a clear conflict and thus move them toward an emphatic sense of resolution and closure, a number of critics have often been puzzled about...
(The entire section is 581 words.)