Most helpful critical review
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
At her best, Lydia Davis is awesome. That's about 50% of this book.
on July 29, 2008
Begin with the not completely irrelevant observation that I plunked down $17 to buy my copy of this book, having been seduced at least in part by McSweeney's hype. Seventeen dollars.
Next, observe that here are some of the book's contents: (Note that each page is quoted in its entirety.)*
Page 14: CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE FROM HERODOTUS
These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:
page 44: SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT:
that Scotland has so few trees.
page 71: HONORING THE SUBJUNCTIVE
It invariably precedes, even if it does not altogether supercede, the determination of what is absolutely desirable and just.
page 73: LOSING MEMORY
You ask me about Edith Wharton.
Well, the name is very familiar.
page 167: AWAY FROM HOME
It has been so long since she used a metaphor!
Well, har-de-har-har, Ms Davis. Words are indeed the precious coins of our linguistic currency, and not to be squandered foolishly. But, given the allegedly beleaguered state of literary fiction these days, with readers scampering away in droves, is it really a wise strategy to adopt such a 'pearls before swine' approach in your writing? God forbid that one should apply as coarse a metric as 'words per dollar' to anyone's literary output, but the Swiss cheese nature of this particular collection left me - how shall I put it? - more than a little peckish at the end.
* These are not the only instances: pages 28, 66, 92, 98, 137, 141, 193, 199, and 200 are characterized by a similar paucity of text.
BUT , I cannot remain upset with you, dearest Lydia. How could I be vexed when, upon turning the almost contentless page 73, I find the completely disarming essay "Letter to a Funeral Parlor" with its devastatingly on-point opening sentence -
I am writing to you to object to the word 'cremains', which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father's death.
Oh, Lydia! Why do you tease us so? Next time, give us more of the good stuff, of which you are so obviously capable. More cheese. Fewer holes.