Friday, August 24, 2007

"The Burdened Man" by Grace Paley

From: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1994.

Feeling financially strapped, a man lashes out at his neighbor when she asks for $5.95 to replace a torn pair of pants his son borrowed from her son. The man throws the money at his neighbor and chases her back to her house. The police arrive, and both parties apologize and actually start a friendship.

The man begins to entertain thoughts of an affair. One afternoon at the woman's house, just as he's about to proposition her, he spots her police sergeant husband lurking outside. Having gone from decorated officer to suspicious drunk, her husband shoots up the kitchen, hitting his wife, the man, and himself, before being arrested by his fellow officers.

The man spends three days in the hospital with a shoulder wound, after which he moves away and changes his outlook, grateful for every heartbeat.

I discovered Grace Paley's fiction in grad school. Her voice and characters, seemingly without pretense, engage readers immediately. Paley, 84, died apparently of breast cancer on August 22. I'll miss her.

1 comment:

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Grace Paley gave an excellent poetry reading when I was a student at the University of Maine at Farmington in the early '90s. We've lost another great talent.