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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

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Overview

Lydia Davis is one of our most original and influential writers. She has been called “an American virtuoso of the short story form” (Salon) and “one of the quiet giants . . . of American fiction” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, for the first time, Davis’s short stories will be collected in one volume, from the groundbreaking Break It Down (1986) to the 2007 National Book Award nominee Varieties of Disturbance.

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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

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Overview

Lydia Davis is one of our most original and influential writers. She has been called “an American virtuoso of the short story form” (Salon) and “one of the quiet giants . . . of American fiction” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, for the first time, Davis’s short stories will be collected in one volume, from the groundbreaking Break It Down (1986) to the 2007 National Book Award nominee Varieties of Disturbance.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis is an event in American letters.

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Editorial Reviews

James Wood
Finally, one can read a large portion of Davis's work, spanning three decades and more than seven hundred pages, 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. I suspect that The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal, like the work of Flannery O'Connor, or Donald Barthelme, or J. F. Powers.
—The New Yorker
Jan Stuart
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. You don't work your way across this mesa-sized collection so much as pogo-stick about, plunging in wherever the springs meet the page.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
This collection marks the first publication of Davis's stories in one volume, including stories from two previous collections, the acclaimed Break It Down and Varieties of Disturbance. Davis's highly original voice ranges from tweetlike one-liners with title ("Index Entry Christian, I'm not a") to longer works of several pages. Many stories are first-person accounts of the narrator analyzing, or overanalyzing, some situation he or she is encountering, as if waking from a dream. As she writes in "Story," "I try to figure it out." Davis, unlike some writers of nontraditional fiction, doesn't take "stop making sense" as her personal motto. Her art lies in getting the reader to look at everyday situations from a new and different perspective. VERDICT This will be prized by those who are already fans of Davis's work and should also appeal to discerning readers of more plot-driven, conventional fiction ready for something challenging and thought-provoking.—Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI
From the Publisher
“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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780241950036
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 8/28/2011

Meet 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 acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann’s Way and is at work on a new translation of Madame Bovary.

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Read an Excerpt

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis


By Lydia Davis

Picador

Copyright © 2010 Lydia Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312655396

THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS Story

I get home from work and there is a message from him: that he is not coming, that he is busy. He will call again. I wait to hear from him, then at nine o’clock I go to where he lives, find his car, but he’s not home. I knock at his apartment door and then at all the garage doors, not knowing which garage door is his—no answer. I write a note, read it over, write a new note, and stick it in his door. At home I am restless, and all I can do, though I have a lot to do, since I’m going on a trip in the morning, is play the piano. I call again at ten forty-five and he’s home, he has been to the movies with his old girlfriend, and she’s still there. He says he’ll call back. I wait. Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband. And then I go on to write, in the third person and the past tense, that clearly she always needed to have a love even if it was a complicated love. He calls back before I have time to finish writing all this down. When he calls, it is a little after eleven thirty. We argue until nearly twelve. Everything he says is a contradiction: for example, he says he did not want to see me because he wanted to work and even more because he wanted to be alone, but he has not worked and he has not been alone. There is no way I can get him to reconcile any of his contradictions, and when this conversation begins to sound too much like many I had with my husband I say goodbye and hang up. I finish writing down what I started to write down even though by now it no longer seems true that anger is any great comfort.

I call him back five minutes later to tell him that I am sorry about all this arguing, and that I love him, but there is no answer. I call again five minutes later, thinking he might have walked out to his garage and walked back, but again there is no answer. I think of driving to where he lives again and looking for his garage to see if he is in there working, because he keeps his desk there and his books and that is where he goes to read and write. I am in my nightgown, it is after twelve and I have to leave the next morning at five. Even so, I get dressed and drive the mile or so to his place. I am afraid that when I get there I will see other cars by his house that I did not see earlier and that one of them will belong to his old girlfriend. When I drive down the driveway I see two cars that weren’t there before, and one of them is parked as close as possible to his door, and I think that she is there. I walk around the small building to the back where his apartment is, and look in the window: the light is on, but I can’t see anything clearly because of the half-closed venetian blinds and the steam on the glass. But things inside the room are not the same as they were earlier in the evening, and before there was no steam. I open the outer screen door and knock. I wait. No answer. I let the screen door fall shut and I walk away to check the row of garages. Now the door opens behind me as I am walking away and he comes out. I can’t see him very well because it is dark in the narrow lane beside his door and he is wearing dark clothes and whatever light there is is behind him. He comes up to me and puts his arms around me without speaking, and I think he is not speaking not because he is feeling so much but because he is preparing what he will say. He lets go of me and walks around me and ahead of me out to where the cars are parked by the garage doors.

As we walk out there he says “Look,” and my name, and I am waiting for him to say that she is here and also that it’s all over between us. But he doesn’t, and I have the feeling he did intend to say something like that, at least say that she was here, and that he then thought better of it for some reason. Instead, he says that everything that went wrong tonight was his fault and he’s sorry. He stands with his back against a garage door and his face in the light and I stand in front of him with my back to the light. At one point he hugs me so suddenly that the fire of my cigarette crumbles against the garage door behind him. I know why we’re out here and not in his room, but I don’t ask him until everything is all right between us. Then he says, “She wasn’t here when I called you. She came back later.” He says the only reason she is there is that something is troubling her and he is the only one she can talk to about it. Then he says, “You don’t understand, do you?”

I try to figure it out.

So they went to the movies and then came back to his place and then I called and then she left and he called back and we argued and then I called back twice but he had gone out to get a beer (he says) and then I drove over and in the meantime he had returned from buying beer and she had also come back and she was in his room so we talked by the garage doors. But what is the truth? Could he and she both really have come back in that short interval between my last phone call and my arrival at his place? Or is the truth really that during his call to me she waited outside or in his garage or in her car and that he then brought her in again, and that when the phone rang with my second and third calls he let it ring without answering, because he was fed up with me and with arguing? Or is the truth that she did leave and did come back later but that he remained and let the phone ring without answering? Or did he perhaps bring her in and then go out for the beer while she waited there and listened to the phone ring? The last is the least likely. I don’t believe anyway that there was any trip out for beer.

The fact that he does not tell me the truth all the time makes me not sure of his truth at certain times, and then I work to figure out for myself if what he is telling me is the truth or not, and sometimes I can figure out that it’s not the truth and sometimes I don’t know and never know, and sometimes just because he says it to me over and over again I am convinced it is the truth because I don’t believe he would repeat a lie so often. Maybe the truth does not matter, but I want to know it if only so that I can come to some conclusions about such questions as: whether he is angry at me or not; if he is, then how angry; whether he still loves her or not; if he does, then how much; whether he loves me or not; how much; how capable he is of deceiving me in the act and after the act in the telling.

THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS Copyright © 2009 by Lydia Davis



Continues...

Excerpted from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis Copyright © 2010 by Lydia Davis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

BREAK IT DOWN (1986)

Story

The Fears of Mrs. Orlando

Liminal: The Little Man

Break It Down

Mr. Burdoff's Visit to Germany

What She Knew

The Fish

Mildred and the Oboe

The Mouse

The Letter

Extracts from a Life

The House Plans

The Brother-in-Law

How W. H. Auden Spends the Night in a Friend's House:

Mothers

In a House Besieged

Visit to Her Husband

Cockroaches in Autumn

The Bone

A Few Things Wrong with Me

Sketches for a Life of Wassilly

City Employment

Two Sisters

The Mother

Therapy

French Lesson I: Le Meurtre

Once a Very Stupid Man

The Housemaid

The Cottages

Safe Love

Problem

What an Old Woman Will Wear

The Sock

Five Signs of Disturbance

ALMOST NO MEMORY (1997)

Meat, My Husband

Jack in the Country

Foucault and Pencil

The Mice

The Thirteenth Woman

The Professor

The Cedar Trees

The Cats in the Prison Recreation Hall

Wife One in Country

The Fish Tank

The Center of the Story

Love

Our Kindness

A Natural Disaster

Odd Behavior

St. Martin

Agreement

In the Garment District

Disagreement

The Actors

What Was Interesting

In the Everglades

The Family

Trying to Learn

To Reiterate

Lord Royston's Tour

The Other

A Friend of Mine

This Condition

Go Away

Pastor Elaine's Newsletter

A Man in Our Town

A Second Chance

Fear

Almost No Memory

Mr. Knockly

How He Is Often Right

The Rape of the Tanuk Women

What I Feel

Lost Things

Glenn Could

Smoke

From Below, as a Neighbor

The Great-Grandmothers

Ethics

The House Behind

The Outing

A Position at the University

Examples of Confusion

The Race of the Patient Motorcyclists

Affinity

SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT (2001)

Boring Friends

A Mown Lawn

City People

Betrayal

The White Tribe

Our Trip

Special Chair

Certain Knowledge from Herodotus

Priority

The Meeting

Companion

Blind Date

Examples of Remember

Old Mother and the Grouch

Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

New Year's Resolution

First Grade: Handwriting Practice

Interesting

Happiest Moment

Jury Duty

A Double Negative

The Old Dictionary

Honoring the Subjunctive

How Difficult

Losing Memory

Letter to a Funeral Parlor

Thyroid Diary

Information from the North Concerning the Ice:

Murder in Bohemia

Happy Memories

They Take Turns Using a Word They Like

Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman

Mir the Hessian

My Neighbors in a Foreign Place

Oral History (with Hiccups)

The Patient

Right and Wrong

Alvin the Typesetter

Special

Selfish

My Husband and I

Spring Spleen

Her Damage

Workingmen

In a Northern Country

Away from Home

Company

Finances

The Transformation

Two Sisters (II)

The Furnace

Young and Poor

The Silence of Mrs. Separate

Almost Over: Seperate Bedrooms

Money

Acknowledgment

VARIETIES OF DISTURBANCE (2007)

A Man from her Past

Dog and Me

Enlightened

The Good Taste Contest

Collaboration with Fly

Kafka Cooks Dinner

Tropical Storm

Good Times

Idea for a Short Documentary Film

Forbidden Subjects

Two Types

The Senses

Grammar Questions

Hand

The Caterpillar

Child Care

We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders

Passing Wind

Television

Jane and the Cane

Getting to Know Your Body

Absentminded

Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho

The Walk

Varieties of Disturbance

Lonely

Mrs. D and Her Maids

20 Sculptures in One Hour

Nietszche

What You Learn About the Baby

Her Mother's Mother

How It Is Done

Insomnia

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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(4)

4 Star

(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2013

    Wonderful to Read on the Page!

    At about half way through I keep going back to re-read so many perfectly put observations on human nature and all varieties of relationships. Davis' style makes you a fellow observer and draws you into thought. She often refreshes writing rules, and always for the better told story. Love her sense of humor. This is a book I will keep.

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    Short shorts from Lydia Davis

    How could anyone possibly not love this? I love this! Lydia Davis is also one of few authors who keeps me interested when I go to her readings.

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  • Posted March 3, 2011

    love this book !

    four complete books of davis' wonderful short (some very short) stories.
    every story at a separate site--but easy to find. one click on the table of contents and there you are! the style is deadpan hilarious, but if
    plot is your thing you might need something different.

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    Posted May 27, 2011

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    Posted September 21, 2011

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    Posted July 8, 2011

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    Posted March 28, 2011

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    Posted May 30, 2011

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