- Paperback: 752 pages
- Publisher: Picador; First edition (October 26, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312655398
- ISBN-13: 978-0312655396
- Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 1.3 x 7.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 110 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis Paperback – October 26, 2010
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“Among the true originals of contemporary American short fiction.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Davis is a magician of self-consciousness. Few writers now working make the words on the page matter more.” ―JONATHAN FRANZEN
“All who know [Davis's] work probably remember their first time reading it . . . Blows the roof off of so many of our assumptions about what constitutes short fiction.” ―DAVE EGGERS, McSweeney's
“Sharp, deft, ironic, understated, and consistently surprising.” ―Joyce Carol Oates
“The best prose stylist in America.” ―RICK MOODY
“A body of work probably unique in American writing, in its combination of lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphysical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom. I suspect that 'The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis' will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions.” ―James Wood, The New Yorker
“This welcome collection of Lydia Davis's short fiction, which gathers stories from four previously published volumes, reveals that her obsessions have remained fairly consistent over the past 30 years: frustrated love, the entanglements of language, the writer engaged in the act of writing. But even when Davis traverses familiar territory, her masterful sentence style and peculiar perceptiveness make each work unmistakably distinct. Davis is known for her ability to pack big themes into a tight space; many stories here are less than a page, and some consist of only one sentence. The longer pieces frequently find her narrators making much out of the seemingly meager. In "The Bone," which first appeared in the collection Break It Down, a woman describes in detached detail the night a fishbone was caught in her now ex-husband's throat. In "The Mice" a narrator feels rejected by the mice that will not come into her kitchen, "as they come into the kitchens of [her] neighbors.” ―Kimberly King Parsons, Time Out New York
“Lydia Davis is one of the best writers in America, a fact that has been kept under wraps by her specialization in short fiction rather than the novel and her discomfort with the idea of one event following another in some sensible pattern, an expectation she frequently plays with, as a kitten will with your fingers. Watch out for those teeth and claws. With the publication of this big book, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Davis might well receive the kind of notice she's long been due. She is the funniest writer I know; the unique pleasure of her wit resides in its being both mordant and beautifully sorrowful (her short piece "Selfish" begins, "The useful thing about being a selfish person is that when your children get hurt you don't mind so much because you yourself are all right," and you can see the regrets that birthed the sentence, even while it cracks you up). Like many great writers of short pieces she is able to convert everyday experience into a light comic drama--cooking for her husband in "Meat, My Husband" or the task of writing in "What Was Interesting"--that builds toward a piercing moment of reality. Some of Davis's stories are only one or two sentences long and many don't exceed two pages, which is good, because seeing them all together in this 700-page volume and surviving the power of the longer ones, you realize you're lucky to be getting out of the book psychically intact--or almost intact. She's that good.” ―Vince Passaro, O, The Oprah Magazine
“What to do with all the empty white space that drifts over the 733 pages and nearly 200 fictions of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis? Make origami, maybe. Like Don DeLillo, who drafted Underworld at the pace of one paragraph per sheet of paper--the technique, he once explained, evolved out of "a sensitivity to the actual appearance of words on a page, to letter-shapes and letter-combinations"--Lydia Davis is as much sculptor as writer. "I put that word on the page,/but he added the apostrophe," reads the entirety of one recent story, "Collaboration With Fly." Another, "My Mother's Reaction to My Travel Plans," doesn't even stretch onto a second line: "Gainsville! It's too bad your cousin is dead!'” ―Zach Baron, Village Voice
“No one writes a story like Lydia Davis. In the years since she began publishing her lyrical, extremely short fiction, she has quietly become one of the most impactful influences on American writers, even if they don't know it. That's largely because she makes economy seem so easy. You could read several of her stories into a friend's voicemail box before you were cut off (and you should). You could fit one of her stories in this column. Some you could write on your palm.” ―Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago
“Lydia Davis is the master of a literary form largely of her own invention. Her publisher calls what she writes fiction - and her short prose pieces do have characters, settings and sometimes a plot, however minuscule - while haughtier literary types might think of it as a kind of fleshy prose poetry or designate it "flash fiction." The classically minded and fantasy fans might characterize it as updated fable. Whatever you call them, Davis' little writings are mostly in prose and often less than a page long. They are also unceasingly surprising, deeply empathic, sharply witty, often laugh-out-loud funny and really, really good.” ―Craig Morgan Teicher, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“This volume contains the stories from four collections: "Break It Down" (1986), "Almost No Memory" (1997), "Samuel Johnson Is Indignant" (2001) and "Varieties of Disturbance" (2007). They are shocking. Be prepared for a level of self-consciousness (remember, Beckett). Be prepared for narrators with disorienting levels of discomfort (remember, Kafka). Be prepared for moments of beauty that are sharp and merciless (remember, Proust).” ―Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times
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 recipient of a MacArthur fellowship and was named a Chevalier of the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government for her fiction and her translations of modern writers, including Maurice Blanchot, Michel Leiris, and Marcel Proust. She is at work on a translation of Madame Bovary.
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Of course many difficult or stylistically advanced writers are frustrating for the unsuspecting reader, particularly writers who haven't the grace to be dead for years and thus enshrined in the pantheon. Nevertheless.
I had read, I am sure, some of her work in the pages of Harpers or the New Yorker, but while possibly amused or charmed I had no idea of the variety and breadth of her imagination, which is part of the dynamic here. In a "story" involving her observations of the new realities imposed by the care of a young baby, she recalls the best of Nicholson Baker's deicious rhapsodies on minutae; some stories resemble Georges Perec, had he possessed a more active sense of humor; still others recall the deadpan absurdism of Beckett. I was initially disappointed to find so many stories written in extremely flat prose until I saw the Beckett tie-in: Davis is ultra-sophisticated, has read everything you have and finds particular comraderie with the flat stylists rather than the baroque movers and practitioners of language. This isn't the night on the town but the morning after.
It's true that not all of these "stories"--I have to use quotes because the term really fails to cover her variety of formats--are winners; what is probably true, though, is that readers will likely disagree as to which fail and which succeed. Entries vary between those of highbrow and lowbrow and nobrow literary heft. Some are one-line notations, others run to 20 pages. One of my favorites was an account of trying to read Beckett's "Worstward Ho" while riding in a van, achieving an absurdist hilarity at once parody, celebration and autobiography that Beckett himself would have appreciated. She is a good mimic; "Kafka Cooks Dinner" is another example. But then there are intense examinations of familial tensions that must themselves be autobiographical, all the more moving for having taken on the dispassionate form of lists or convoluted verbal exercises. As with some of the best authors, she makes language reach into places others haven't touched.
Cutting to the chase, Ms Davis deserves at least five stars here if you value literary innovation, the self-invention and daring of writers who create their own genres, and the value placed on your time by writers who don't waste it. Here's one example in its entirety, from a raft of experiences I can relate to. Keep in mind she is a stylistic chameleon, and the sentence constructions are peculiar to this example only:
How She Could Not Drive
She could not drive if there were too many clouds in the sky. Or rather, if she could drive with many clouds in the sky, she could not have music playing if there were also passengers in the car. If there were two passengers, as well as a small caged animal, and many clouds in the sky, she could listen but not speak. If a wind blew shavings from the small animal's cage over her shoulder and lap as well as the shoulder and lap of the man next to her, she could not speak to anyone or listen, even if there were very few clouds in the sky. If the small boy was quiet, reading his book in the backseat, but the man next to her opened his newspaper so wide that its edge touched the gearshift and the sunlight shone off its white page into her eyes, then she could not speak or listen while trying to enter a large highway full of fast-moving cars, even if there were no clouds in the sky.
Then, if it was night and the boy was not in the car, and the small caged animal was not in the car, and the car was empty of boxes and suitcases where before it had been full, and the man next to her was not reading a newspaper but looking out the window straight ahead, and the sky was dark so that she could see no clouds, she could listen but not talk, and she could have no music playing, if a motel brightly illuminated above her on a dark hill some distance ahead and to the left seemed to be floating across the highway in front as she drove at high speed between dotted lines with headlights coming at her on the left and up behind her in the rearview mirror and taillights ahead in a gentle curve around to the right underneath the massive airship of motel lights floating across the highway from left to right in front of her, or could talk, but only to say one thing, which went unanswered.
By the way, this particular book, as a physical entity, is a joy to hold: lightweight for its 733 pages, a tidy block of woodpulp only 4 1/2 by 7". Yet with readable type, since ultra-short entries involve a lot of blank space. And there's a pleasant salmon-colored cover. Get the physical book if you can.
Such space....hummm to breathe, and such succinct honed stories that capture the essence of a moment ,a human thought, a disgrace.
Some books ask us to be lost in another's tale....in this book you end up startled that somehow, what you just read, has so much to do with you
& you marvel at how witty you can be.
I haven't finished reading all of the stories, but I've been enjoying the book very much. I take time to think about each story -- how well they're edited, how I respond. I can tell that Ms. Davis has mastered this craft, and I'm excited to start enjoying this type of work.