Thursday, October 19, 2017

"The Used-Boy Raisers" (1959)

Story by Grace Paley not available online.

This is actually the first in a series of stories by Grace Paley about Faith Darwin, who is the first-person narrator. It's an unfortunate name in many ways, but that can't be helped now. The story is a loose meditation on the trajectory of her life. It feels like feminism without the vocabulary. She is making breakfast for her two husbands. She calls her ex-husband, who is visiting, Livid, and her present husband she calls Pallid. She has two sons by Livid, whom Pallid is now raising with her. Generally her husbands at the breakfast table are sniveling about things in a bantering way, and generally she is contemptuous of them. It goes beyond her names for them. It's hard to call this a story because nothing really happens—or everything has already happened, though perhaps things may happen again in the future. It's hard to say. You can't help but think of things like, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." It's 1959 so it's early for feminism—or late, really, but you know what I mean. Yet that's the vibe. It's a short story, under 10 printed pages, but that's more than enough time with Livid and Pallid. Both have their attractive qualities, sometimes different from one another, but many more unattractive ones. The main interest for me, I think—because mostly the story annoyed me—is its incoherent articulation of what's to come. Paley seems to know change is coming, as did Sam Cooke a few years later. The situation she shows is so obviously ripe for it. Nobody is getting what they want from these relationships, evidently, and yet none of them has any idea what to do about it. Partly it's the old joke about the guy who thinks he's a chicken but his loved ones won't confront him because they need the eggs. As it happens, the whole story, with an opening line to bring it home, is about two men who are peevish about the way a woman prepared their eggs. It's a quirky read, with a spasmodic and elliptical way of moving the action and fleshing out the background. And there are apparently more stories about Faith Darwin too, with or without her husbands and children. As a stand-alone, however, I don't think this adds up to much.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

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