Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reading Lydia Davis

I am reading Lydia Davis' Collected Stories, a 750+ page book of Ms. Davis' short (sometimes only a sentence under a title) works of prose fiction. I bought it at the airport a few months ago because our flight was delayed and our bags were already checked and I like the cover. Also, Lydia Davis. I mean really.

Her stories are so short, she claims, because she's reacting against the long sentences of Proust, whom Davis translated to great acclaim. I'm not sure if this is flash fiction per se, but in many cases it really works because Davis' idea of "story" isn't the same as mine and so some of her pieces are six pages long and strike me more as character sketches or something. But some of them are amazing despite (because of?) their brevity. Here is "Fish" in its entirety:

She stands over a fish, thinking about certain irrevocable mistakes she has made today. Now the fish has been cooked, and she is alone with it. The fish is for her--there is no one else in the house. But she has had a troubling day. How can she eat this fish, cooling on a slab of marble? And yet the fish too, motionless as it is, and dismantled from its bones, and fleeced of its silver skin, has never been so completely alone as it is now: violated in a final manner and regarded with a weary eye by this woman who has made the latest mistake of her day and done this to it.

That's great stuff. And there are, as I say, 750 more pages of stuff like it. "Break it Down," much longer, is amazing. So go buy and read, kids.


  1. I like that story. Thanks for posting it. I have not read anything of Davis'.

  2. I've never felt so sorry for anyone's dinner as I did when I read "Fish."

    I don't know if I can sit and read this collection from beginning to end, because the stories are so fragmented and are generally only "stories" in that they sometimes have an emotional arc, but I'm trying to read a couple of stories every night. I want to see what sort of stylistic/formal range Davis has. My hope is that it won't begin to seem repetitious about 150 pages in.