Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

Overview

From one of our most imaginative and inventive writers, a crystalline collection of perfectly modulated, sometimes harrowing and often hilarious investigations into the multifaceted ways in which human beings perceive each other and themselves. A couple suspects their friends think them boring; a woman resolves to see herself as nothing but then concludes she's set too high a goal; and a funeral home receives a letter rebuking it for linguistic errors. Lydia Davis once again proves in the words of the Los Angeles...

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Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

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Overview

From one of our most imaginative and inventive writers, a crystalline collection of perfectly modulated, sometimes harrowing and often hilarious investigations into the multifaceted ways in which human beings perceive each other and themselves. A couple suspects their friends think them boring; a woman resolves to see herself as nothing but then concludes she's set too high a goal; and a funeral home receives a letter rebuking it for linguistic errors. Lydia Davis once again proves in the words of the Los Angeles Times "one of the quiet giants in the world of American fiction."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Highly intelligent, wildly entertaining stories, bound by visionary, philosophical, comic prose-part Gertrude Stein, part Simone Weil, and pure Lydia Davis."—Elle

"Davis should be counted among the true originals of contemporary American short fiction."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Davis deploys her gift for verbal bemusement, annoyance, and high anxiety . . . [and] converts her characters' complex ruminations into narratives full of insight and pleasure."—The Village Voice

"Her stories are intellectual and playful, and rigorous as brainteasers."—Bookforum

Publishers Weekly
To herald a Davis book as "the usual" may sound like faint praise, but the writer's loyal fans know that it is anything but. In this latest collection, Davis (Almost No Memory; The End of the Story) doesn't disappoint: the 56 stories paragraph-long meditations, stories in sections and humorous one-liners showcase the wordplay and distillation of meaning that have become her stylistic hallmarks, offering up crisp twists on familiar themes. In "The Meeting," a woman's corporate encounter sparks an internal identity crisis and rant; the childbearing conundrum is nailed in "A Double Negative." Relationships are probed in stories ranging from "Old Mother and the Grouch," with its fancifully imagined characters, to the brief "Finances," which gives voice to the messy issue of domestic equality. There are riffs on mown lawns and the use of the word "cremains" by a funeral parlor, and spooled-out ponderings on domestic priorities, selfishness and boring friends. Communication and language are paramount in Davis's world: an elderly man searches for his brother a language researcher in a hostile environment in "In a Northern Country," and a one-sided question-and-answer session in "Jury Duty" is the more revealing for what is omitted. The title story is an example of the author's famous one-liners that provide initial quick humor, then cause the reader to think again. And a longer story about Marie Curie, told in sections, fascinates with its interior imaginings. Eclectic and astute, Davis continues to find new ways to tell us the things we need to know. (Oct.) Forecast: Davis attracts a cultish core audience, and the low price of this hardcover title should make it an attractive impulse purchase.Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Translator, novelist, and short-fiction specialist Davis (Almost No Memory, 1997, etc.) assembles another fine collection of 54 wry, haunting pieces, old and new, brief and long, nearly all previously published. The title story is indicative of Davis's humor, appending to "Samuel Johnson Is Indignant" only this: "that Scotland has so few trees." Most of the remaining pieces offer a bit more. In "Old Mother and the Grouch," one of several tales concerning quietly desperate married life, an older couple grouse and bicker their way through meals, phone calls, and lovemaking, all the while intimating that they'd be hard-pressed to survive alone. An equally prominent theme is that of women under duress, exemplified in "Thyroid Diary" by a professor's wife and translator with an underactive thyroid whose thought processes seem to be slowing and unraveling, wreaking havoc on her work and daily routines but somehow opening her up to the joys of etymology. From an earlier period of Davis's writing come stories with an eastern European flair and Kafkaesque quality: "In a Northern Country" describes a frail old man who journeys in search of his missing brother to a remote village where, surrounded by fearful strangers, he becomes sickened to the point of death. Outsiders, self-doubt, and alienation: all form the bedrock upon which Davis sets up an off-kilter, edgy universe distinctly her own.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312420567
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 662,196
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.31 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Lydia Davis is the author of the story collections Almost No Memory (Picador, 2001) and Break it Down, and the novel The End of the Story. She has won the Guggenheim, the Lannan Foundation Award, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award and a Chevalier from the French government.

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Read an Excerpt

SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT (Chapter One)Boring Friends

We know only four boring people. The rest of our friends we find very interesting. However, most of the friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us the most boring. The few who are somewhere in the middle, with whom there is reciprocal interest, we distrust: at any moment, we feel, they may become too interesting for us, or we too interesting for them.

SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT Copyright © 1976, 1981, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Lydia Davis.

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Table of Contents

Boring Friends 1
A Mown Lawn 2
City People 3
Betrayal 4
The White Tribe 6
Our Trip 7
Special Chair 12
Certain Knowledge from Herodotus 14
Priority 15
The Meeting 17
Companion 21
Blind Date 22
Examples of Remember 28
Old Mother and the Grouch 29
Samuel Johnson Is Indignant 44
New Year's Resolution 45
First Grade: Handwriting Practice 47
Interesting 48
Happiest Moment 50
Jury Duty 51
A Double Negative 66
The Old Dictionary 67
Honoring the Subjunctive 71
How Difficult 72
Losing Memory 73
Letter to a Funeral Parlor 74
Thyroid Diary 76
Information from the North Concerning the Ice 92
Murder in Bohemia 93
Happy Memories 94
They Take Turns Using a Word They Like 98
Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman 99
Mir the Hessian 119
My Neighbors in a Foreign Place 121
Oral History (with Hiccups) 125
The Patient 127
Right and Wrong 129
Alvin the Typesetter 130
Special 137
Selfish 138
My Husband and I 140
Spring Spleen 141
Her Damage 142
Working Men 145
In a Northern Country 146
Away from Home 167
Company 168
Finances 170
The Transformation 171
Two Sisters (II) 173
The Furnace 176
Young and Poor 192
The Silence of Mrs. Iln 193
Almost Over: Separate Bedrooms 199
Money 200
Acknowledgement 201
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