Lydia Davis has been called "one of the quiet giants in the world of American fiction" (Los Angeles Times), "an American virtuoso of the short story form" (Salon), an innovator who attempts "to remake the model of the modern short story" (The New York Times Book Review). Her admirers include Grace Paley, Jonathan Franzen, and Zadie Smith; as Time magazine observed, her stories are "moving . . . and somehow inevitable, as if she has written what we were all on the verge of thinking."
In Varieties of Disturbance, her fourth collection, Davis extends her reach as never before in stories that take every form from sociological studies to concise poems. Her subjects include the five senses, fourth-graders, good taste, and tropical storms. She offers a reinterpretation of insomnia and re-creates the ordeals of Kafka in the kitchen. She questions the lengths to which one should go to save the life of a caterpillar, proposes a clear account of the sexual act, rides the bus, probes the limits of marital fidelity, and unlocks the secret to a long and happy life.
No two of these fictions are alike. And yet in each, Davis rearranges our view of the world by looking beyond our preconceptions to a bizarre truth, a source of delight and surprise.
Varieties of Disturbance is a 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|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 DisturbanceStories
By Lydia Davis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLCCopyright © 2007 Lydia Davis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA 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.
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Table of Contents
A Man from Her Past 3
Dog and Me 4
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
The Caterpillar 31
We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders 34
Passing Wind 58
Jane and the Cane 65
Getting to Know Your Body 66
Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho 68
The Walk 72
Varieties of Disturbance 83
Mrs. D and Her Maids 87
20 Sculptures in One Hour 112
What You Learn About the Baby 115
Her Mother's Mother 125
How It Is Done 127
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
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.