My Infatuation with Lydia Davis

I have an infatuation with Lydia Davis. Today, I drove by the library with her book by my side. I was due to return it. I’ve already renewed it once. I thought I could go cold turkey, simply drop it in the slot outside. I cruised right by, returning home to re-read through some of the gems in this collection. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis is a unique read. The first thing is the minimalism. She makes Raymond Carver read like War and Peace.

Here’s the numbers. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis is a gathering of her four previous collections, and features 198 stories in 733 pages. That averages out to 3.7 pages per story. Many of her stories are one page long, some are one paragraph. They read like a blend of flash fiction and poetry. A few stories are one sentence. Yet they are often insightful in a an eerily universal way.

One story is entitled, Mother’s Reactions To My Travel Plans. And here’s the story. “Gainesville! It’s too bad your cousin is dead!”

I laughed out loud, because it’s a universal story that reveals insights into aging, interconnectedness, and family relationships. Whose mother has not said something similar?

Several of these short pieces are written in the first person, giving the reader the sense that Davis has written her inner thoughts down on napkins or notepads. Over the years, Davis has translated several books, and she obviously takes delight playing with words in amusing sorts of ways.

Forbidden Subjects and Good Times are two stories that explore the circular nature of our feelings, the idea that our current thoughts produce our next thoughts and we can choose to make it a downward spiral or a rise upwards. Davis draws out lively examples of several zen themes throughout her pieces.

My favorite story out of the collection is Meat, My Husband. It’s a lovely story where the female narrator discusses her preparation of healthy vegetarian meals, and how her husband eats these meals with resignation. The wife knows her husband loves red meat, but she believes she has his best interest in mind with her tofu recipes. I’ve read this story a few times, and it appears to be such a simple story, yet it leads to the narrator’s own insightful revelations about her own actions in the marriage.

At nights, I found myself scanning through the book choosing the shorter stories to read or re-read. Even though it was time to turn out the lights, I kept getting drawn in, telling myself, one more gem, one more, just one more.