For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Entire World Was Whispering in the Other Room

Grace Paley in “The Value of Not Understanding Everything,” collected in Just as I Thought:

What I’m saying is that in areas in which you are very smart you might try writing history or criticism, and then you can know and tell how all the mystery of America flows out from under Huck Finn’s raft; where you are kind of dumb, write a story or a novel, depending on the depth and breadth of your dumbness. Some people can do both. Edmund Wilson, for instance — but he’s so much more smart than dumb that he has written very little fiction. When you have invented all the facts to make a story and get somehow to the truth of the mystery and you can’t dig up another question —change the subject.

Let me give you a very personal example: I have published a small book of short stories. They are on several themes, at least half of them Jewish. One of the reasons for that is that I was an outsider in our particular neighborhood — at least I thought I was — I took long rides on Saturday, the Sabbath. My family spoke Russian, but the street spoke Yiddish. There were families of experience I was cut off from. You know, it seemed to me that an entire world was whispering in the other room. In order to get to the core of it all, I used all those sibilant clues. I made fiction.