four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
By: 
Lydia Davis
user_rating: 
0

A-The Collected Stories of Lydia DavisLydia Davis is the author of seven short story collections, including the 2007 National Book Award finalist Varieties of Disturbance. In 2003, Davis translated Marcel Proust's classic Swann's Way and is currently working on a translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

The Story: Davis's latest collection includes stories from four previously published works: Break It Down, Almost No Memory, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, and Varieties of Disturbance. In "Safe Love," a lonely wife falls in love with her son's pediatrician. In "Grammar Questions," a daughter wonders how to refer to her father once he is dead (is he a "he" or an "it"?). And in "Lonely," a protagonist obsessively wills the telephone to ring. Many of the 198 tales, which range from a single sentence to multiple pages, explore how some of our most profound revelations stem from seemingly superficial or everyday situations.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 752 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780374270605

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
In some stories, like ‘Kafka Cooks Dinner,' it is easy to be hypnotized, dazzled, by what seems like trance writing. ... If it's any consolation, you are an instrument being played by a master." Susan Salter Reynolds

New Yorker 4.5 of 5 Stars
"One can read a large portion of Davis's work, and a grand cumulative achievement comes into view--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. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal." James Wood

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[The stories] are also unceasingly surprising, deeply empathic, sharply witty, often laugh-out-loud funny and really, really good. ... This is the kind of book readers will either devour in one obsessed run, or sip for months and years." Craig Morgan Teicher

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Davis nervily inhabits obsessive and haunted personas, her intonation shifting with unsettling precision from the sly to the sinister. ... Davis approaches the short-story form with jazzy experimentation, tinkering with lists, circumlocutions, even interviews where the questions have been creepily edited out." Jan Stuart

O, The Oprah Magazine 4 of 5 Stars
"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. ... She is the funniest writer I know; the unique pleasure of her wit resides in its being both mordant and beautifully sorrowful." Vince Passaro

Critical Summary

Critics unanimously praised this extraordinary (and extraordinarily hefty) collection, in which Davis masterly taps into myriad emotions--from melancholy to hilarity, empathy, and apathy. Each voice is unique; each story is equally difficult to categorize. Many of the stories lack basic names, dates, and places and are disconcerting in their brevity. Are they short stories? Flash fiction? Fables? Davis steadfastly refuses to adhere to any kind of prescribed formula, with stunning and original results. Whatever label readers decide to attach to her work, critics agreed that Davis is one of American literature's best-kept secrets.