This rich and multifaceted collection is Grace Paley's vivid record of her life. As close to an autobiography as anything we are likely to have from this quintessentially American writer, Just As I Thought gives us a chance to see Paley not only as a writer and "troublemaker" but also as a daughter, sister, mother, and grandmother. Through her descriptions of her childhood in the Bronx and her experiences as an antiwar activist to her lectures on writing and her recollections of other writers, these pieces are always alive with Paley's inimitable voice, humor, and wisdom.
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."