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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

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Reviews of the Collection

Time Out New York--September 24, 2009

This welcome collection of Lydia Davis’s short fiction, which gathers stories from four previously published volumes, reveals that her obsessions have remained fairly consistent over the past 30 years: frustrated love, the entanglements of language, the writer engaged in the act of writing. But even when Davis traverses familiar territory, her masterful sentence style and peculiar perceptiveness make each work unmistakably distinct.

Davis is known for her ability to pack big themes into a tight space; many stories here are less than a page, and some consist of only one sentence. The longer pieces frequently find her narrators making much out of the seemingly meager. In “The Bone,” which first appeared in the collection Break It Down, a woman describes in detached detail the night a fishbone was caught in her now ex-husband’s throat. In “The Mice” a narrator feels rejected by the mice that will not come into her kitchen, “as they come into the kitchens of [her] neighbors.”--Kimberly King Parsons 


O, The Oprah Magazine--from the October issue

"Lydia Davis is one of the best writers in America, a fact that has been kept under wraps by her specialization in short fiction rather than the novel and her discomfort with the idea of one event following another in some sensible pattern, an expectation she frequently plays with, as a kitten will with your fingers. Watch out for those teeth and claws. With the publication of this big book, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Davis might well receive the kind of notice she's long been due. She is the funniest writer I know; the unique pleasure of her wit resides in its being both mordant and beautifully sorrowful (her short piece "Selfish" begins, "The useful thing about being a selfish person is that when your children get hurt you don't mind so much because you yourself are all right," and you can see the regrets that birthed the sentence, even while it cracks you up). Like many great writers of short pieces she is able to convert everyday experience into a light comic drama—cooking for her husband in "Meat, My Husband" or the task of writing in "What Was Interesting"—that builds toward a piercing moment of reality. Some of Davis's stories are only one or two sentences long and many don't exceed two pages, which is good, because seeing them all together in this 700-page volume and surviving the power of the longer ones, you realize you're lucky to be getting out of the book psychically intact—or almost intact. She's that good."--Vince Passaro

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Village Voice--October 6, 2009

"What to do with all the empty white space that drifts over the 733 pages and nearly 200 fictions of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis? Make origami, maybe. Like Don DeLillo, who drafted Underworld at the pace of one paragraph per sheet of paper—the technique, he once explained, evolved out of "a sensitivity to the actual appearance of words on a page, to letter-shapes and letter-combinations"—Lydia Davis is as much sculptor as writer. "I put that word on the page,/but he added the apostrophe," reads the entirety of one recent story, "Collaboration With Fly." Another, "My Mother's Reaction to My Travel Plans," doesn't even stretch onto a second line: "Gainsville! It's too bad your cousin is dead!'"--Zach Baron

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Time Out Chicago--October 8, 2009

"No one writes a story like Lydia Davis. In the years since she began publishing her lyrical, extremely short fiction, she has quietly become one of the most impactful influences on American writers, even if they don’t know it. That’s largely because she makes economy seem so easy. You could read several of her stories into a friend’s voicemail box before you were cut off (and you should). You could fit one of her stories in this column. Some you could write on your palm."--Jonathan Messinger


The Cleveland Plain Dealer--October 11, 2009

"Lydia Davis is the master of a literary form largely of her own invention.

Her publisher calls what she writes fiction - and her short prose pieces do have characters, settings and sometimes a plot, however minuscule - while haughtier literary types might think of it as a kind of fleshy prose poetry or designate it "flash fiction." The classically minded and fantasy fans might characterize it as updated fable.

Whatever you call them, Davis' little writings are mostly in prose and often less than a page long. They are also unceasingly surprising, deeply empathic, sharply witty, often laugh-out-loud funny and really, really good."--Craig Morgan Teicher

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The Los Angeles Times--October 18, 2009

"These days, when literature springs from mere experience and memoirs are justified by a change in eating habits, it seems fitting to remark on the heritage of Lydia Davis. Her father, Robert Gorham Davis, was a literary critic and author. His criticism appeared in the New York Times, the Partisan Review, the American Scholar and many other publications. His stories appeared in the New Yorker. He taught literature at Harvard (where he urged Norman Mailer to submit his first short story to Story magazine), Smith (where he taught Sylvia Plath) and Columbia. A couple of short-story anthologies he edited were widely used in college literature classes. He died in 1998. Davis' mother was also a writer whose stories appeared in the New Yorker. She was an active feminist and communist. She died in 2004. Davis' first husband is Paul Auster.

There's more before we get to the text. Davis studied writing the way painters study painting: copying the old masters -- favorite sentences from her favorite authors, especially Beckett but also Kafka and Proust. She became a translator, of Proust, Maurice Blanchot, Michel Foucault and others. She has written seven short-story collections and one novel. Her translation of "Swann's Way" (Viking, 2003) is clear and true to the music of the original French.

This volume contains the stories from four collections: "Break It Down" (1986), "Almost No Memory" (1997), "Samuel Johnson Is Indignant" (2001) and "Varieties of Disturbance" (2007). They are shocking. Be prepared for a level of self-consciousness (remember, Beckett). Be prepared for narrators with disorienting levels of discomfort (remember, Kafka). Be prepared for moments of beauty that are sharp and merciless (remember, Proust)."--Susan Salter Reynolds

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The New Yorker--October 19, 2009

"Songs of Myself"--review by James Wood

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