This short story is interesting partly because it is written as a letter to a recipient who is unseen. In fact, we don’t know the identity of Lillie (mentioned in the first paragraph) until the final paragraph. It’s not that this person is particularly important. But it poses a bit of a puzzle to the reader. Is this much younger sister really the narrator’s daughter? Rosie is called her ‘aunt’. This question is left unanswered, and adds to the overall melancholy at the end, since Rosie will be travelling so far away.
PLOT OF GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
Rosie, a fifty-year-old woman, writes a letter to her younger sister (?) explaining her longterm relationship with a famous Russian actor at a Russian theatre on New York’s Second Avenue. After starting work there as a young woman, the good-looking Russian actor asks her to tea at a nearby restaurant. He pays for an apartment for her nearby on Ninety-Fourth Street. Rosie’s mother does not approve of this. Rosie gives some money to her family and does something with flowers in the mornings so she can get by financially herself, even after a small raise at the theatre.
Now the manager is after her, too, along with others. So she takes up a relationship with the manager. She breaks it off once she finds out he is married with three daughters. She gets various unpalatable marriage proposals, and turns them all down. The Russian actor comes back and it is revealed that Rosie was hoping something would come of that. He is her lifelong love interest. Instead, he warns her that she’s getting old. In fact, she’s even older than he has guessed. The theatre breaks up, people start to die and the manager has a heart attack. The Russian will spend his retirement writing his memoirs. The journalists put a rosy spin on this.
Understanding that she is herself ‘past her use-by date’, Rosie realises when the Russian actor calls to offer her a relationship that he is her only chance at marriage. She is ‘fat and fifty’. She works again in novelty wear. and the Russian’s wife is leaving him for his adultery. He wants a relationship with Rosie and Rosie insists upon marriage. At the end of the letter/short story Rosie asks her much younger sister to explain all this to their mother, for she is leaving to start a life with him in Russia.
SETTING OF GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
Set on the lower east side of Manhattan, specifically at a famous Second Avenue Russian theatre. Second Avenue is now called the East Village, but was then considered part of the Jewish Lower East Side. Plays in this area often rivaled Broadway plays, being of equally high quality.
Set in the late 50s, the social milieu is significant. This is a culture which is heavily critical of extramarital affairs, and especially hard on the women. A woman who has worked in low-paid jobs her entire life is not financially secure as she approaches old age. A marriage with a man of means is attractive in its own right. This is during the second wave of the women’s movement. Grace Paley herself, and Rosie her creation, are aware of women’s position.
CHARACTER OF GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
A whole cast of characters is introduced in the first line, though the reader will have trouble piecing them together on the first reading.
Rose is the first person narrator. The very first paragraph tells us that she is a large woman, and this aspect is reinforced time and again throughout the story. ‘I wasn’t no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh.’ Why is her size significant? Because she feels that this puts her at a disadvantage in the marriage market. She must accept who will take her. Whether this is actually true is a moot point: Simply believing it makes it so. At the same time, Rose has bravado when it comes to her body, or perhaps at times she really feels luscious, turning down a cup-of-tea by comparing herself to a Russian teapot.
The story both begins and ends with Rose working in ‘novelty wear’.
Rosie’s mother tells her daughter that she is ‘a nothing, a rotten hole in a piece of cheese’. Despite her size (and because of it equally) Rosie would feel invisible on the marriage market, and this is the greatest insult a mother could hurl. Despite this, Rosie understands her mother’s position and continues to pay her money and when she goes back briefly to stay, she spends the week doing work around the house. Still the mother is rude to the daughter. But she has had a hard life, having been married to a man she didn’t particularly get on with, then caring for him as he wasted away.
It’s not clear exactly how old Lillie is, but she is a married young adult.
If there was more life in my little sister, she would know my heart is a regular college of feelings and there is such information between my corset and me that her whole married life is a kindergarten.
Well, by now you must know yourself, honey, whatever you do, life don’t stop.
The Theatre Manager, Mr Krimberg
The man who interviewed me was the manager, a certain type. Immediately he said, “Rosie Lieber! You sure got a build on you!”
This man is a trope, and all the reader requires is a single line of dialogue. This is the sort of older Russian man from the 50s who thinks it’s okay to comment immediately on a woman’s body. His sense of entitlement is set up right away. He is melodramatic in his justification, perhaps fitting for a theatre manager:
“Little girl, I have told you a hundred times, this small room is the convent of my troubled spirit. Here I come to your innocent shelter to refresh myself in the midst of an agonized life.”
Note how he calls Rosie ‘little girl’. This is condescending, of course, but perhaps it is Krimberg among few others who in fact makes Rosie feel socially-acceptably petite.
The love of Rosie’s life, handsome, famous, with his name embroidered in restaurant tablecloths. It’s taken as a given that he has extramarital affairs. When his wife of 50 years leaves him for adultery, Vlashkin understands that actually what has changed is that he is now hanging around the house all day, getting under her feet. Although the reader is told that he is famous, Rosie sees his human side. Their relationship was at first mainly sexual, but over many years morphed into mostly talking. In his retirement he is financially secure. This is now his main drawcard for Rosie, although they will live as equals now. Rosie is the one who insists he marries her.
Even when society thinks we’re not doing the perfectly right thing, we must take our windows of opportunity where we find them. The first scene in the story sets up the theme of ‘windows’. We learn that the spirited Rose walks out on a job in novelty wear because she’s not allowed to sit beside a window. “Missus, if I can’t sit by a window, I can’t sit.”
The passing of time makes victims of us all. No one is excused from the changes which come with time.
TECHNIQUE OF NOTE IN GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
The letter emulates the voice of someone who is not a writer and not particularly coherent. The first paragraph starts off referring to the writer in the third person, for instance. Characters are clumsily introduced. We are left to piece-together the events. Written in English by a Russian/Yiddish speaking narrator, the English is not perfect. This technique leaves some work for the reader, and the voice ends up sounding authentic.
STORY SPECS OF GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK
Approximately 4000 words
Epistolary, written to an unseen character.
There was a play based on this short story, performed twice in New York in 2007, with music composed by David Friedman.