The inimitable Paley has already given us her Collected Stories (1994); now we get a collection of nonfiction, drawn from the past 30 years. The 50 essays, articles, interviews, and talks that make up this collection take Paley from her Bronx childhood, as the daughter of Russian-Jewish socialists, in the 1920s and '40s to her current role as an elder stateswoman of the American literary left. Although she claims for the book a strong focus on the dark days of the 1950s (the cloud of the Red Scare hangs in the background of much of the book), it might be argued more convincingly that this is a volume with its feet firmly planted in the 1960s, the decade in which Paley's political activism began its fullest flowering and a decade whose legacy of nonviolent activism is clearly brought to fruition in her subsequent antinuclear, feminist, and antiwar activities. Paley reflects on her life experiences—ranging from work at a series of uninspiring day jobs to abortion, from being arrested at peace marches to sharing thoughts with comrade sisters like Kay Boyle and Barbara Deming—with the same feisty spiritedness and wry, dark humor that characterize her best fiction. She has an unerring ear for the way people speak on the New York streets and a luminous, humane warmth that animates her writing with its generosity. Some of the Vietnam-era political pieces feel a trifle dated, and some might accuse Paley of political naivetÇ, but that is a refreshing change from the ugly cynicism of many of her opponents. A book to be dipped into repeatedly, if not read cover-to-cover, but a fine companion to Paley's memorable fictions.
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