The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

by Lydia Davis

Paperback(First Edition)

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312655396
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 10/26/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 752
Sales rank: 205,946
Product dimensions: 7.54(w) x 11.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About 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 recipient of a MacArthur fellowship and was named a Chevalier of the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government for her fiction and her translations of modern writers, including Maurice Blanchot, Michel Leiris, and Marcel Proust. She is at work on a translation of Madame Bovary.

Read an Excerpt




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

Table of Contents



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:


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


French Lesson I: Le Meurtre

Once a Very Stupid Man

The Housemaid

The Cottages

Safe Love


What an Old Woman Will Wear

The Sock

Five Signs of Disturbance


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


Our Kindness

A Natural Disaster

Odd Behavior

St. Martin


In the Garment District


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


Almost No Memory

Mr. Knockly

How He Is Often Right

The Rape of the Tanuk Women

What I Feel

Lost Things

Glenn Could


From Below, as a Neighbor

The Great-Grandmothers


The House Behind

The Outing

A Position at the University

Examples of Confusion

The Race of the Patient Motorcyclists



Boring Friends

A Mown Lawn

City People


The White Tribe

Our Trip

Special Chair

Certain Knowledge from Herodotus


The Meeting


Blind Date

Examples of Remember

Old Mother and the Grouch

Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

New Year's Resolution

First Grade: Handwriting Practice


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



My Husband and I

Spring Spleen

Her Damage


In a Northern Country

Away from Home



The Transformation

Two Sisters (II)

The Furnace

Young and Poor

The Silence of Mrs. Separate

Almost Over: Seperate Bedrooms




A Man from her Past

Dog and Me


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


The Caterpillar

Child Care

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

Passing Wind


Jane and the Cane

Getting to Know Your Body


Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho

The Walk

Varieties of Disturbance


Mrs. D and Her Maids

20 Sculptures in One Hour


What You Learn About the Baby

Her Mother's Mother

How It Is Done


Customer Reviews

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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
A fabulous artistic use of the English language.
aaronbaron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A mixed bag of little gems, some flawed and cracked, others brilliant, all of them interesting. Davis is fiercely intellectual but never pedantic; within the stictly delimited space of her very short stories she can flit between erudite French wordplay and poignant commentary about being human. She has a keen sense of humor, a cultured ear, and a sharp eye. She can say more and do more in six paragraphs than most writers can achieve in a thick novel. This book made me want to write fiction again, if you can call this fiction.
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am so thankful I happened upon a review of Lydia Davis and that I picked up this book on a whim. I love, love, love these stories! I have never read anything written in a style quite like hers. The stories in this collection range from less than one page long to dozens of pages long, and even though they are short, I was able to read only 3 or 4 in one sitting so as to savour and understand as much as I could. Some stories are symbolic of a much deeper meaning and some, I think, are simply just a story told in a unique way. I like her run-on yet coherent style. I like how each story is a little glimpse into a character's inner life, and how they evoke such interesting feelings in me.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a really unusual collection of short stories. Lydia Davis plays with structure in a manner I have not seen before. I saw her speak as part of the Rochester Arts & Lecture Series 2010-2011, and was powerfully struck by her intellect and very dry wit. These qualities come through in her stories. She is a master of minutiae, able to make a pwerful statement in as little as 2-3 sentences. This is a great collection to pick up and put down in order to savor the material over time.
DeeMA More than 1 year ago
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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DaniSeaLark More than 1 year ago
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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dark-nest More than 1 year ago
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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