by Kathleen Collins, with a foreword by Elizabeth Alexander
A master of the short story that is all voice, Grace Paley was famous for having come down against the fiction of plot and character development because, as she once said, “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.” In Paley’s stories the narrating voice—urban, ethnic, rooted in …
Most American Communists never set foot in party headquarters, nor laid eyes on a Central Committee member, but every rank-and-filer knew that party unionists were crucial to the rise of industrial labor in this country; that it was mainly party lawyers who defended blacks in the Deep South; that party organizers lived, worked, and sometimes died with miners in Appalachia, farm workers in California, steel workers in Pittsburgh. It is perhaps hard to understand now, but at the height of its influence in the 1930s and 1940s, the Marxist vision of world solidarity induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that made life feel large: large and clarified. It was to this inner clarity that so many became not only attached, but addicted. While under its influence, no reward of life, neither love nor fame nor wealth, could compete.
Some months ago, late on a winter afternoon, I picked up Particularly Cats again. This time, I read it through in a single sitting, hardly able to believe that I had once held this book in my hands and not been similarly compelled. As I’m reading, my mouth opens wider and wider, until I feel it dropping nearly to my chest. Mainly, I am shocked because the mature Lessing relates this grisly tale with extraordinary equanimity—not a blink, not a gulp, not a syllable of distress in a single sentence. What we have instead is that cold, clear, unyielding gaze of hers trained on a piece of domestic grand guignol as it might be on the most harmless of accidental occurrences, and then reflected upon with almost laughable imperturbability.