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Break It Down: Stories [Kindle Edition]

Lydia Davis
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Book Description

The thirty-four stories in this seminal collection powerfully display what have become Lydia Davis’s trademarks—dexterity, brevity, understatement, and surprise. Although the certainty of her prose suggests a world of almost clinical reason and clarity, her characters show us that life, thought, and language are full of disorder. Break It Down is Davis at her best. In the words of Jonathan Franzen, she is “a magician of self-consciousness.”

Editorial Reviews


“Davis is one of the most precise and economical writers we have.” —DAVE EGGERS, McSweeney’s

About the Author

LYDIA DAVIS has received a MacArthur genius grant among other honors. Her collection Varieties of Disturbance was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award.

Product Details

  • File Size: 214 KB
  • Print Length: 196 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374531447
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0055DLDHG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,619 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interior of the mind October 14, 2008
Break it down by Lydia Davis is a great book of short stories. I appreciate her bare bones approach to each story. She has little staging and dialogue. The way she introduces many of her characters is through interior thoughts using the character, or an authorial voice as she looks from the outside onto the character. The reader gets a full 360 view of each character in this book. There are many themes in the book, but a general theme is self absorption and how it manifests itself in behaviors and thoughts in each character. This book has alot to do with the hidden anxiety in each of us, that we don't necessairly want to think about or discuss. Good stories to study and break down.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One to Buy April 20, 2010
Absolutely no word is wasted in Lydia Davis' Break it Down. Her stories are comical, honest, clever and varying.
I simply hate sitting down to a short story collection and reading the same "finding myself" story 20 times over. This bad experience had led to never be much of a short stories person, and yet this I was drawn to. I am glad that I was.
I am a big library-goer, a.k.a. don't want to spend money on books that I will read only once. But this is one that I will head to the bookstore to purchase, to keep on my shelf as a reference book, almost, to brilliant and forthright writing.
I highly recommend picking it up.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few things wrong with her May 31, 2013
Lydia Davis won this year's international Man Booker Prize for her work, not for any special book. She is only the fifth awardee after Kadaré, Achebe, Alice Munro, Ph. Roth. Respectable company.
I had never heard of her. Browsing in a book shop with my daughter, I found LD's 'Collected Stories'. Daughter talked me into buying it, with the hardly hidden agenda that I would leave it with her. Good plan. This book from the 1980s is the first one included in the collection.

I am not much into short stories, but these have a special flavor, which worked for me, to some extent and for a while. Some comments say that Davis invented her own literary form with short texts that are somewhere between traditional short story, poem, aphorism, and whatever else. True.

This is hard to categorize. Psychological vignettes, Kafkaesque grotesques, prose poems, absurd little observations, standing alone on a half page or packaged into a longer contemplation. One suspects at times that the texts are like diary entries, of autobiographical nature, but that is always a dangerous assumption.

Let me describe as an example the story 'Some things wrong with me'. The narrator is a divorcee who had a new relationship and expected it to be stable, but then he broke it off with the summarized explanation that some things were wrong with her and he didn't expect the relationship to last. He didn't say what was wrong. Now she wonders. She feels like a car that is doomed to break down on the highway for no special reason.

Or: 'Cockroaches in autumn', a 3 page series of observations on life with this amazing protein machine, the Blattaria.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Less can be much more than only more December 14, 2010
It has become a cliché to say that less is more, but there is no other expression that best summarizes Lydia Davis's writing. Her stories are, however, way beyond any clichéd idea. They are fresh, perceptive and addictive. She writes as if telling us something personal, something that happened with her - some stories may have an autobiographical touch, especially when told in first person, but nevertheless they don't mean to be really confessional.

She writes both short-short stories and short-long ones and is first among equals in each case. Her shortest stories may be not longer than one line, and even in these cases she is able to bring something meaningful.

In her first collection "Break it down", Davis writes mostly about fractured relationships, about lost love, and people dealing with the changes in their lives. One of the best of them is "The fears of Mrs Orlando", about a woman afraid of leaving her home, and the consequences of that. Actually it is not only about it - this woman's fear works as a metaphor for everybody's fears. Another brilliant one is called "French Lesson I: Le Meurtre". It could be read as a thriller disguised as a French Lesson. The key words, which are taught in this lesson, give away a deeper meaning to the narrative.

First published in 1984, "Break it down" is seen as an assured debut of a mature talent for short fiction. Davis doesn't aim a Chekhovian realism - her helm is another one that sometimes is expressed in only a few words.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work with me March 5, 2009
Probably there is something in myself that doesn't respond well to Davis' writing, but this story collection of Lydia Davis has not raised in me anything like the enthusiastic appraisal bestowed on it on both the sides of the Atlantic.
Jonathan Franzen - who is among my most loved authors - has defined Davis "a magician of self-consciousness". Maybe he is quite right. The point is, however - as far as I am concerned - that I've never been an unreserved fan of magicians' tricks: the more amazing they appear, the stronger I feel the necessary presence of the underlying deception.
Of course I wouldn't (and couldn't) deny that Break It Down proves that this writer has an extraordinary mastery of the language and an unusual ability to be a short story innovator. Yet - or, possibly, due to this very reason - most of her stories do not succeed in making me feel totally fascinated by, involved in, or even only deeply absorbed in the narrative.
Most of the time I feel like assisting to some sort of experimenting which calls on my attention in a very deliberate and, though clever, eventually rather artificial way: "now I'll show you what I can do", or "let's see how it works, telling it in this way". Empathy and, more generally, emotions are thus left aside, they keep on sleeping. All the (many) times that the story is being narrated, as they say, "in real time" - reporting step by step what the main character/narrator does, thinks, says or would say, etc. - rather than letting me feel increasingly attracted to, or even deeply immersed in the story's core, it makes me feel miles away from it or, sometimes, invited to assist to some sort of fiction's autopsy .
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More About the Author

Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She is the acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann's Way and is at work on a new translation of Madame Bovary.

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