Varieties of Disturbance

Varieties of Disturbance

by Lydia Davis

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374281731
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 05/15/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 681,004
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

Lydia Davis's story collections include the Village Voice favorite Samuel Johnson Is Indignant and Almost No Memory, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. She is the acclaimed translator of the new Swann's Way. She received a 2003 MacArthur fellowship.

Read an Excerpt

Varieties of Disturbance

By Lydia Davis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2007 Lydia Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-28173-1

Chapter One

A Man from Her Past

I think Mother is flirting with a man from her past who is not Father. I say to myself: Mother ought not to have improper relations with this man "Franz"! "Franz" is a European. I say she should not see this man improperly while Father is away! But I am confusing an old reality with a new reality: Father will not be returning home. He will be staying on at Vernon Hall. As for Mother, she is ninety-four years old. How can there be improper relations with a woman of ninety-four? Yet my confusion must be this: though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.

Dog and Me

An ant can look up at you, too, and even threaten you with its arms. Of course, my dog does not know I am human, he sees me as dog, though I do not leap up at a fence. I am a strong dog. But I do not leave my mouth hanging open when I walk along. Even on a hot day, I do not leave my tongue hanging out. But I bark at him: "No! No!"


I don't know if I can remain friends with her. I've thought and thought about it-she'll never know how much. I gave it one last try. I called her, after a year. But I didn't like the way the conversation went. The problem is that she is not very enlightened. Or I should say, she is not enlightened enough for me. She is nearly fifty years old and no more enlightened, as far as I can see, than when I first knew her twenty years ago, when we talked mainly about men. I did not mind how unenlightened she was then, maybe because I was not so enlightened myself. I believe I am more enlightened now, and certainly more enlightened than she is, although I know it's not very enlightened to say that. But I want to say it, so I am willing to postpone being more enlightened myself so that I can still say a thing like that about a friend.

The Good Taste Contest

The husband and wife were competing in a Good Taste Contest judged by a jury of their peers, men and women of good taste, including a fabric designer, a rare-book dealer, a pastry cook, and a librarian. The wife was judged to have better taste in furniture, especially antique furniture. The husband was judged to have overall poor taste in lighting fixtures, tableware, and glassware. The wife was judged to have indifferent taste in window treatments, but the husband and wife both were judged to have good taste in floor coverings, bed linen, bath linen, large appliances, and small appliances. The husband was felt to have good taste in carpets, but only fair taste in upholstery fabrics. The husband was felt to have very good taste in both food and alcoholic beverages, while the wife had inconsistently good to poor taste in food. The husband had better taste in clothes than the wife though inconsistent taste in perfumes and colognes. While both husband and wife were judged to have no more than fair taste in garden design, they were judged to have good taste in number and variety of evergreens. The husband was felt to have excellent taste in roses but poor taste in bulbs. The wife was felt to have better taste in bulbs and generally good taste in shade plantings with the exception of hostas. The husband's taste was felt to be good in garden furniture but only fair in ornamental planters. The wife's taste was judged consistently poor in garden statuary. After a brief discussion, the judges gave the decision to the husband for his higher overall points score.

Collaboration with Fly

I put that word on the page, but he added the apostrophe.


Excerpted from Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis Copyright © 2007 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.
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Table of Contents

A Man from Her Past     3
Dog and Me     4
Enlightened     5
The Good Taste Contest     6
Collaboration with Fly     8
Kafka Cooks Dinner     9
Tropical Storm     19
Good Times     20
Idea for a Short Documentary Film     22
Forbidden Subjects     23
Two Types     25
The Senses     26
Grammar Questions     27
Hand     30
The Caterpillar     31
Childcare     33
We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders     34
Passing Wind     58
Television     60
Jane and the Cane     65
Getting to Know Your Body     66
Absentminded     67
Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho     68
The Walk     72
Varieties of Disturbance     83
Lonely     86
Mrs. D and Her Maids     87
20 Sculptures in One Hour     112
Nietszche     114
What You Learn About the Baby     115
Her Mother's Mother     125
How It Is Done     127
Insomnia     128
Burning Family Members     129
The Way to Perfection     135
The Fellowship     136
Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality     137
Reducing Expenses     178
Mother's Reaction to My Travel Plans     181
For Sixty Cents     182
How Shall I Mourn Them?     183
A Strange Impulse     186
How She Could Not Drive     187
Suddenly Afraid     189
Getting Better     190
Head, Heart     191
The Strangers     192
The Busy Road     194
Order     195
The Fly     196
Traveling with Mother     197
Index Entry     199
My Son     200
Example of the Continuing Past Tense in a Hotel Room     201
Cape Cod Diary     202
Almost Over: What's the Word?     218
A Different Man     219

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Varieties of Disturbance 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
donp on LibraryThing 26 days ago
I can't add much to the positive stuff that's already been said. The book (along with her collection [book:Samuel Johnson Is Indignant]) is a master class in flash writing. Even the (relatively few) pieces I didn't enjoy had taught me a few things.
stephxsu on LibraryThing 26 days ago
As far as irony goes, Lydia Davis really stretches the boundaries and makes us question what is a short story and what is...not. I really enjoyed the insights into human nature that she writes about in all her stories, even the shortest ones, but I'm particularly astounded at the way she bends genre conventions. Does a one-line short story really count as a short story ("Collaboration with Fly")? What about a story that's full of nonsense words, that doesn't have a story except in the footnotes ("Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho")? "Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho" is particularly baffling to me because both the object in the contents of both stories in that story--the short story itself and the book the character reads--are utter nonsense, and it's actually the sub-story told within the footnotes that's actually a story. Similarly, "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth Graders" is absolutely hilarious because of the coldly clinical and academic approach it takes to kids. They're just a bunch of kids! It's moments like these in Davis' stories--when she brings to light a common human absurdity--that make me enjoy her stories. Davis is actively aware of the components of a short story and seems to approach stories with the awareness that she's writing a story in mind, instead of trying to blend character with narration so that its verisimilitude shines through.
bookbutterfly on LibraryThing 26 days ago
I'm not sure that I understand what this author was trying to portray. I thought that many of the "stories" said the same thing, if they said anything at all.
debnance on LibraryThing 26 days ago
Short stories? You call these short stories?Well, it doesn't really matter what you label them....They are fun,they are innovative, they zing your mind.
jasonlf on LibraryThing 26 days ago
I really liked Break It Down because of Lydia Davis for the impeccable writing and the mostly odd and invariable disorienting stories. Varieties of Disturbance was very similar, in fact disappointingly similar given the 19 year gap in their publication dates (1986 vs. 2007). At its best, Varieties of Disturbance is outstanding. But at times it feels banal, tedious and pointless--especially some of the longer stories.But to list a few that were memorably good:"Collaboration with a Fly" ("I put that word on the page, but he added the apostrophe." -- yes that's the entire story)"Kafka Cooks Dinner" (one of the longer stories, in the first person by Kafka as he worries about cooking dinner for Milena)"Grammar Questions" (musings on grammatical challenges in talking about someone who is dying)"We Miss You: A Study of Get-well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders" (another longer one, with a detailed taxonomy of letters written by a fourth-grade class to a sick classmate, that somehow sustains its interest from beginning to end)"20 Sculptures in One Hour" (a series of precisely articulated thoughts on whether an hour is a long or short time to observe 20 paintings, with the observation that an hour seems short but three minutes works out to be quite long--yes it makes sense if you read it.)"A Strange Impulse" (almost a fragment that leaves you to imagine the interesting story that might lie behind it)
Alirambles on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book begins with two pages of all-caps quotes from reviews of the book. The idea, I suppose, is to give you the impression that reviewers loved it, which will at least get you to read past the first page even though you're going, "Huh...?" because clearly the reviewers caught on to a level of brilliance you just haven't quite grasped yet. Why else would they say "FEW WRITERS NOW WORKING MAKE THE WORDS ON THE PAGE MATTER MORE" and "WITTY AND INSIGHTFULLY INVENTIVE?" And so you keep reading, waiting for that aha moment, and....It never comes. Some of the writing is clever, as in the kind of clever that if I read it on somebody's blog I'd say "Ha. That's clever." But I wouldn't say, THAT WAS HIGHLY INTELLIGENT AND WILDLY ENTERTAINING! And I wouldn't wish there was a whole book of it.