This collection of articles, reports, and talks by National Book Award finalist Grace Paley represents approximately 30 years of political and literary activity--with a couple of occasional glances over her shoulder into disappearing family and children--and comes as close to an autobiography as anything we are likely to have from this quintessentially American writer.
With their loopy sense of humor, pervasive sorrow, and Lower East Side vernacular, Grace Paley's stories have earned her a permanent place in American literature. Now her publisher has collected almost three decades of essays, reviews, and lectures, which amount to cumulative, if oblique, self-portrait. "This is not an autobiographical collection," she writes in her introduction, "but it is about my life." Since Paley's life has encompassed not only literature but a long involvement in politics, there are pungent takes on the women's movement, anti-nuke protests, and Vietnam. Yet she's too hard-headed to write even a single sentence of polemical drivel; her political prose is always personal. Here, for example, she attends a Quaker sit-in at the Seabrook nuclear site: "I'm not very good at Friends meetings. My mind refuses to prevent my eyes from looking at the folks around me, and I'm often annoyed because I can't get the drift of the murmur of private witness. I did hear one young man near me say, 'May your intercession here today be the fruit of our action.' I think this means 'God helps those that help themselves,' a proverb that sounds meaner than it really is." And when it comes to literature and writing, Paley is tremendous. Her short essays on Isaac Babel and Donald Barthelme are themselves worth the price ofpurchase. In Just As I Thought, the author accomplishes exactly what she ascribes to Babel, producing "clarity, presentness, tension, and a model of how always, though with great difficulty, to proceed."