On this Lit Show, Lydia Davis discusses her new book, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. The volume, which is over seven hundred pages and contains more than 200 stories, presents the four fiction collections that Davis published between 1986 and 2007.
Davis is known for incorporating aspects of other genres in her stories, and her work succeeds because she has the skill to do so. She has the poet’s knack for evocation through description; the memoirist’s capacity for unflinching self-analysis; and the fiction writer’s ability to create a world, populate it, and then make it tick and tock with life.
Many of the works do not have a standard narrative chronology, but use other strategies to provide meaning. Some stories read like sprawling lists of objects or people, others like SAT algebraic word problems, others as koan-like meditations on isolation and loneliness. Davis perpetually surprises with formal innovations, too. In one story, the speaking narrator is saddled with a bad case of the hiccups; another is a faux-scholarly analysis of a series of get well cards. Despite her inventiveness, though, Davis never embraces iconoclasm for its own sake. Her stories read as the work of an author deeply engaged with how to best use words to represent life—in all its strangeness, pathos, and comedy.
Lydia Davis has received numerous awards for her fiction, including a MacArthur Fellowship, and she was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her translations of Blanchot and Proust. Her 2007 story collection Varieties of Disturbance was a finalist for the National Book Award. Rick Moody has called her “the best prose stylist in America.”
“20 Sculptures in One Hour”
“Almost Over: Separate Bedrooms”
“Cockroaches in Autumn”