Book Review : "Enormous Changes At The Last Minute"

Enormous Changes at the Last MinuteEnormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't enjoy this collection as much as I hoped I would. I like offbeat stuff sometimes but most of these stories didn't grab me. One big complaint I have is that in most of these stories, Paley doesn't use quotation marks to denote conversations, which makes it difficult to follow conversations. When I have to repeatedly re-read sections to figure out who is saying what, it bugs me.

Some of the writing is busy and dense, adding to the difficulty in getting through it. I've read that Donald Barthelme, a favorite of mine, was her mentor. Barthelme certainly knows how to add the absurd plot, crazy detail, and nutty dialogue but he does it more sparingly. He brings you along on a raft of normalcy before springing some jack-in-the box on you, and it's more effective for that. Paley throws whole sentences of one clever but odd thing after another until the reader is going down for the third time, to stretch my metaphor. The worst story was called "Come On, Ye Sons Of Art" and if you can figure out wth *that* was all about, good for you.

All that is not to say I didn't alike any of the stories. One of the longer--and oddest, in its way--is "Faith In A Tree" about a recurring character who literally goes up a tree to observe and converse with numerous other characters in a park. Sounds nuts, but I liked it. She pulled off her crazy style in that one. "Samuel" is, dare I say it, a well written straightforward story. And "The Little Girl" was really sad but really well done.

Imagine my surprise when, in the story "A Conversation With My Father", the character's father complains of many of the same things that bugged me about this collection, imploring his writer daughter to just tell a simple straightforward story in the manner of Turgenev or Checkov (two of my own favorite story writers.) I was thinking, "I'm with you, pops."

So anyway. The stories are unique, certainly original, and portray a certain personal impression of New York City in a certain period of time. But I don't really recommend this book, though I do recommend "Faith In A Tree" by itself.

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