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
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.
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.
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.