The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
By Lydia Davis
752 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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.
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